January 29, 2021

FIFA Club World Cup - Fact File

In February 2021, the 16th edition of the FIFA Club World Cup will finally get underway. Delayed from December 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the event will feature the top six continental teams of the same year and host nation Qatar's national champions. 

The tournament, which is currently held annually, is an international club football tournament, featuring teams from each of the world's six football confederations. The event is played to a single-elimination format over two weeks, with the competition winners crowned world champions.

Qatar, hosts of the up and coming 2022 FIFA World Cup, are accommodating the event for the second time, having held 2019's competition as well. This year's tournament will provide an excellent opportunity to test the nation's event readiness for the World Cup with less than two years to go before kick-off. For one thing, two of Qatar's new World Cup 2022 stadiums - Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and Education City Stadium - will host the club tournament. These 'test events' will give stadium organisers the chance to put their facilities, and the site's management plans, through their paces. It will also be an opportunity for players and officials to access playing conditions in Qatar, and for a limited number of fans to watch the excitement on the pitch - something the footballing world has struggled to maintain during the pandemic.

So, the stage is set. This year's opponents include South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai FC (AFC), Egypt's Al Ahly SC (CAF), Mexico's Tigres UANL (CONCACAF), winners of the Copa Libertadores (CONMEBOL), Germany's FC Bayern München (UEFA) and Qatar's national league winners, Al Duhail SC. But what do we know about the competition? The tournament has been running as an officially backed FIFA event since 2000. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has such faith in the potential of the games he plans to expand the competition in the coming years. However, this wasn't always the case. Check out our Club World Cup facts to find out why and learn a little more about the tournament...

The Nuts and Bolts of the Club World Cup

Looking to mug up on your football knowledge, read through our top five facts about the FIFA Club World Cup:

ONE - Format

Since 2012, qualification for the six continental teams is by winning their corresponding continental competitions (Asia's AFC Champions League, Africa's CAF Champions League, North and Central America's CONCACAF Champions League, South America's Copa Libertadores, Oceania's OFC Champions League or Europe's UEFA Champions League). The host nation's team must win their national league championship.

The current format of the games follows four stages, the play-offs, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the final, in a single-elimination structure:

Play-OffsOFC Champions League Winners

Host Nation National League Champions
The first stage sees the host nation's national league champions face up to the Oceanian Champions League winners.
Quarter-FinalsPlay-Off Winners

AFC Champions League Winners

CAF Champions League Winners

CONCACAF Champions League Winners
The play-offs winner goes into the quarter-finals to join the AFC, CAF, and CONCACAF Champions League winners.
Semi-FinalsTwo Quarter-Finals Winners

CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores Winners

UEFA Champions League Winners
The winners of the quarter-finals are pitted against the UEFA Champions League winners and South America's Copa Libertadores winners in the semi-finals.
FinalTwo Semi-Finals WinnersThe winner of each semi-final game plays each other in the final.

TWO - Hosts

Over the last sixteen tournaments, five countries have hosted the competition. Brazil hosted the first Club World Cup back in 2000. In between then and now, though not over the years from 2001 to 2004 when the competition wasn’t held, Japan (eight-time host), Morocco (2), Qatar (1) and the United Arab Emirates (4) have accommodated the tournament. 

Qatar hosted the Cup in 2019. That year Al Sadd, the country's most successful football team,  took to the pitch to represent its nation. The squad trumped its fellow play-offs opponent, New Caledonia’s Hienghene Sport 3-1. They went on to play in the quarter-finals but eventually finished in 6th place. Slightly disappointing for the 2019 Asian Cup winners, though teammate Baghdad Bounedjah was named, alongside Espérance Sportive de Tunis player, top-goal scorer.

2019 wasn’t Qatar’s only foray into the Club World Cup arena. In 2011, Al Sadd again entered the fray finishing in a very respectable 3rd place behind Spain’s Barcelona and Brazil’s Santos.

THREE - History

The idea of a tournament that identifies the best football club in the world is not a new one. Despite the relative newness of the FIFA Club World Cup, the intention to create such a competition has been around for over a century.

In 1887, a Football World Championship tournament was held in the United Kingdom. The club tournament was between the top English and Scottish clubs of the time, which speaks volumes about world football during that period. 

In fact, many attempts have been made to introduce international club tournaments in the last one hundred years - the Torneo Internazionale Stampa Sportiva (1908), the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy (1909-1911), the Copa Rio (1951 - 1952), the Pequeña Copa del Mundo (Small Club World Cup / 1952-1975) and the Intercontinental Cup (1960 - 2004). However, the competitions were never truly representative of world football since they were only held between European and South American teams. And, none were endorsed by FIFA. Thus, none of the winners was officially recognised as world champions...until recently when FIFA acknowledged the Intercontinental Cup as the Club World Cup predecessor. Since that time all winners have been formally titled Club World Champions. 

Europe and South America remained the most advanced footballing continents for most of the last century. It wasn't until Asia, Africa, North and Central America, and Oceania developed their football capabilities that FIFA decided that the world was ready for a genuinely multi-continental competition. The idea was mooted in the early 1990s, and finally, in 2000, the first Club World Cup was founded.

FOUR - Performances

As would be expected from an international tournament, clubs from Europe and South America are the competition's top dogs. Of the sixteen Cups to date, UEFA teams have won 12 titles and CONMEBOL team a total of 4. However, as in all competitions, there is always room for the unexpected!

  • In 2010, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s TP Mazembe played their way into the tournament final thrashing Brazil’s Internacional along the way. Finally pushed out by Italy’s Internazionale, TP Mazembe finished in second place.
  • In 2013, Morocco’s Raja Casablanca had an unbroken run to the final against teams from New Zealand, Mexico and Brazil. They were only stopped by a formidable Bayern Munich.
  • In 2016, Japan’s Kashima Antlers bulldozed their way through their opponents, including Columbia’s Atlético Nacional to get to the final. Their formidable progress was halted 4-2 by Real Madrid.
  • In 2018, the UAE’s Al-Ain also made the final beating teams from New Zealand, Tunisia and Argentina (on points) along the way. Real Madrid took them out in the final with a score of 4-1.

In fact, Real Madrid has won the World Champion title four times, the most of any team. They are closely followed by fellow Spaniards Barcelona who has taken the trophy three times - making Spain the top performer of all the continental teams.

FIVE - Awards

Apart from the fairly hefty prize money for taking part and winning the Club World Cup tournament (the overall winning team walks away with US$10 million), clubs and players can also accrue some much sought after awards. Players can pick up Golden, Silver and Bronze Balls, as well as a Most Valuable Player Trophy. And, teams can hope to win FIFA’s Fair Play Trophy. Over the years a host of teams have been awarded such honours as have many of our favourite faces:

Brazillian players have been awarded the most balls - 13 in total, four Golden, five Silver and four Bronze (one of which belongs to Neymar).

Argentinian players sit in second place with seven balls - two Golden (both owned by Messi), two silver (one belonging to Messi) and three Bronze.

In third place, with five balls (two of which are in the hands of Ronaldo) are players from Portugal.

The teams with the most Golden Balls between them are Barcelona and Real Madrid - four each and belonging to Deco, Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez (Barcelona) and Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modrić, and Gareth Bale (Real Madrid).

Qatar’s own retired league players, Xavi and Samuel Eto’o have also won the coveted award. Xavi has both Silver and Bronze Balls, one of which he obtained with Qatari team Al Sadd in 2011. Eto’o won a Golden Ball in 2010 playing for Italy’s Internazionale. He also won the Most Valuable Player Trophy that year.

The Most Valuable Player Trophy has been awarded to Brazilian players most often, while Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid have picked up the most Fair Play trophies.

The Future

The 2020 Club World Cup will most likely be the last of the seven-team format. In 2017, plans were put forward for a twenty-four team event played quadrennially rather than annually. The idea is that the new format tournament would replace the FIFA Confederations Cup (a similar competition held every four years between the six confederation championship winners and the current holder of the World Cup winner title). The tournament will feature four seasons worth of winners from the UEFA Champions League (plus runners up), the UEFA Europa League and the Copa Libertadores. The remaining places would be filled from the other four confederations. The new format tournament was planned to start in 2021 in China, however the competition will be rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Regardless of the delay to the new formats first tournament, the FIFA World Cup looks set to grow into one of FIFA’s top competitions…

Main image: Tomofumi Kitano/Wikimedia Commons

Published: January 29, 2021
Last updated: January 29, 2021
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