Real favourites to add Club World Cup title to honoursArchive
YOKOHAMA: Winning the Club World Cup could launch Real Madrid to a unique quadruple title haul.
Real have a shot at becoming the first team to win the Champions League, La Liga, Spain’s Copa del Rey, and the Club World Cup in the same season. They lead La Liga, are through to the knockout stage of the Champions League, and are alive in the Copa del Rey.
The tournament kicks off on Thursday in Yokohama with newly crowned J-League champion Kashima Antlers facing Oceania champions Auckland City for a chance to advance to the second round.
The winners face Mamelodi Sundowns, the first South African team to play at the tournament, on Sunday while Asian champions Jeonbuk Motors face Mexican side Club America, the champions of CONCACAF.
Copa Libertadores champions Atletico Nacional enter the fray on Dec 14 when they meet either Kashima, Auckland or Mamelodi while Real meet either America or Jeonbuk the following day — a dream tie for either side.
Real haven’t lost since April at VfL Wolfsburg in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League. They return to the competition with 13 of the players who lifted the Club World Cup title in 2014, when they beat San Lorenzo in the final.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and Keylor Navas are all expected to participate, and the biggest absence will be Gareth Bale, who recently underwent ankle surgery.
And Ronaldo has issued a warning.
“It has been a perfect year, with the Champions League and the Euros,” said Real’s talisman, who also led Portugal to European Championship glory in July and has signed a new five-year deal stretching to 2021.
“Now we have to win the Club World Cup. I want to win trophies, that’s why I want to stay at this club.”
European teams have been the most successful in the tournament, with eight titles, although it is not considered as high on the priority list for European clubs as it is for the South American sides.
Real’s main rival for the title will be Nacional, who will travel to Japan with a strong team but is dealing with the trauma of the recent airplane crash that caused the cancellation of the Copa Sudamericana final.
Nacional were to play Brazilian club Chapecoense in the final but the plane carrying the Brazilian team to the game crashed, killing almost all on board.
The Colombian club features goalkeeper Franco Armani, who did not concede a single goal during the group stage of the Copa Libertadores, as well as captain Alexis Henriquez and striker Miguel Borja.
But in five months since winning the Copa Libertadores, Nacional have sold three key players — defender Marcos Moreno to Manchester City, defender Davinson Sanchez to Ajax and midfielder Sebastian Perez to Boca Juniors.
The Colombians are looking to avenge an extra-time defeat by AC Milan in the tournament’s forerunner, the Intercontinental Cup, in 1989.
Their stingy defence kept nine clean sheets in a 14-game run to the South American title, and they play a tidy brand of football under coach Reinaldo Rueda.
America will be making their third appearance, and feature 16 players with previous experience. Paul Aguilar is recovering from a cruciate ligament tear in his right knee, but Moises Munoz and Oribe Peralta will be available.
Recently crowned Asian Champions League winners Jeonbuk will pin their hopes on veteran striker Lee Dong-gook and the Brazilian duo of Leonardo and Edu.
Plucky Auckland will look to produce another shock in their eighth appearance in the tournament after their collection of truck drivers, cleaners and zoology students defied the odds to finish third in 2014.
“The game against (Kashima) is going to be tough, but our boys are well prepared and I’m looking forward to it,” said New Zealand international Clayton Lewis, ahead of Thursday’s tournament-opener.
Published in Dawn December 8th, 2016