Although they are currently fighting on several fronts, Madrid are taking the Club World Cup very seriously, keen to lift the trophy that eluded them in 2000, when they finished a disappointing fourth in the first edition of the tournament in Brazil. Better still, victory in Morocco would reduce the lead of arch-rivals Barcelona, who were champions in 2009 and 2011, and further underline the recent dominance of European sides, who have won six out of the last seven Club World Cups.
“We have to play sensibly. We know that the matches will be difficult because everyone that faces Real Madrid will be desperate to beat us," Marcelo told FIFA.com. "We have to keep our feet on the ground, work hard and try our best if we’re going to win the title.”
Pride at stake
When talking about a competition that brings together the champions of each continent, however, it would be unfair to concentrate only on the European representatives. The problem is that, in contrast to Real Madrid, almost all the other teams have endured difficult times since winning their respective continental titles. San Lorenzo, for example, after joining the select group of great Argentinian teams to win the Copa Libertadores, have struggled in the second half of the year, much to their fans’ consternation. "We aren’t playing like we did when we won the Libertadores," admitted coach Edgardo Bauza.
Meanwhile Moghreb Tetouan, winners of the Moroccan championship, and Auckland City, who went five months without playing a game an official game after winning the OFC Champions League in May, have both performed erratically in their domestic leagues. For their part Cruz Azul, the CONCACAF champions, and Western Sydney Wanderers, winners of the Asian Champions League, have also been disappointing. Among Real Madrid’s challengers, only ES Setif have maintained the form that led them to the CAF Champions League title, and are among the frontrunners in the Algerian championship.
On the other hand, leaving behind their domestic travails and breathing the rarefied air of a world championship may be just the tonic the teams need to rediscover their form. And in a short knock-out tournament, an astute tactical adjustment or exceptional performance over 90 minutes can make a difference against stronger rivals. San Lorenzo, meanwhile, believe there is another important factor which should also be considered.
"The grit and passion of Argentinian players gives us a chance against any team in the world," said Bauza, who, when in charge of LDU Quito, made life extremely difficult for favourites Manchester United in the final of the 2008 tournament. Yepes, a Colombian who embodies the fighting spirit of the San Lorenzo defence, had a similar message: "We have to complicate things for them (Real). It won’t be easy, but in a one-off game anything can happen."
For Cruz Azul, the sixth Mexican team to compete in the Club World Cup, the goal is to avoid more frustration for the country after a string of disappointing performances at the tournament. Nothing, however, can shake the confidence of their players. "First of all we have to get past Western Sydney. After that, anything can happen," said Corona. "I’ve no doubt that we can cause a surprise. Our goal is to return home as champions," added a confident Marco Fabian.
In the same vein, Moghreb are hoping the support of their fans can help a Moroccan side to another impressive campaign in the tournament, after Raja Casablanca finished as runners-up in 2013. "My players will get a real boost from playing in packed stadiums," said Aziz El Amri, the coach of the host nation’s representatives. "I believe we will have a great tournament.”
A festival of football
If these predictions are correct, the atmosphere in Morocco during the ten-day tournament should be electric. Come what may, when stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale and especially Karim Benzema – likely to be a great favourite with the local fans – take to the pitch in Rabat and Marrakech, the country will come to a standstill. "If we get there (to the final), of course I’ll try to swap shirts with Cristiano Ronaldo. How could I miss a chance like that?" said Mouhssine Iajour, the former Raja star who is now Moghreb’s main striker.
Even when Real are not playing, fans will hardly be short of big names to watch. Fabian, Corona, Yepes and Matthew Spiranovic all played in the FIFA World Cup™, while Gerardo Torrado, Nestor Ortigoza and Leandro Romagnoli promise to bring a Latin flavour to the competition. Last but not least, Abdelmalik Ziaya and the experienced Ivan Vicelich complete the line-up of stars.
With everything now set for the big kick-off, you can follow all the news and action on FIFA.com – no matter who you support!