Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Global Village

Well, my plane reservation has been booked, my hotel reservation has been made, and (I get the feeling that some of you may chortle at this) my FIFA accreditation has arrived. I have no idea whether I'll get the time to post anything on here tomorrow, and I know that I won't on Friday, because I'll be 30,000 feet over somewhere, sweating and trying not to burst into tears (I'm not very good at flying), so this may turn out to be the last post on here from this country for a while. Hopefully, I'll get the chance to relay the story of Manchester United's period in the doldrums tomorrow, but I have a lot of packing to do, and I'm starting to run out of time already, so it may have to wait. This evening, a final look at the World Club Championships, which kick soff in Toyota City, the home of Nagoya Grampus 8 (Gary Lineker's old team, some of you may recall) on Sunday evening, when with Auckland City fighting an massive, Grand Canyon shaped uphill battle as they take on Al Ahly Sporting Club of Cairo.

It's fair to say that Auckland City don't have a great chance of winning this trophy, and the same goes for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who play against Club America the next days. Sorry guys, but I just can't see it. I'd be delighted if either of these two made it to the semi-finals, but it simply looks beyond the realms of possibility to me. We can, therefore, narrow down our search for the World Club Champions to one of four clubs: Al Ahly Sporting Club, Club America, Internacional or Barcelona. There are solid reasons, as I have already discussed, behind why each of these four clubs could win it. Al Ahly surely have the tightest bond of any of these four. They are the backbone of the current African Nations Cup holders, Egypt. This is a team that plays together all the time. They also have, for the want of a better word, the sentimental reason for winning - they're doing it for the memory of Mohamed Abdelwahab. One may question how good their individual players are - after all, if they are so great, why aren't they playing in Europe? It might be wiser, though, to disregard this sort of patronising, parochial tosh, and consider that this might just be the first time that African team could win something on the global stage.

Club America, I think, will struggle. I am a fan of the Mexican game, so I say this with a heavy heart. They lost their Mexican League play-off match against their most hated rivals, Chivas, at the weekend, and that might just turn out to be too big a hangover for them to handle. They have some great individual players, but what's noticeable about their squad is that more than a few of their best players are getting on a bit. Lopez and Blanco are both heading towards the mid-thirties. A tiring and important match, followed by a long flight to the Far East and, potentially, three difficult matches. It looks like a step too far, too me. That said, I will confidently predict that Club America will be the Team Most Likely To Create Interesting News Stories.

Which leaves the pre-tournament favourites: Internacional and Barcelona. Barca will undoubtedly have been lifted by their comfortable win over Werder Bremen last night. They also have the considerable advantage of having four days extra rest time, and a match less to play. They also have Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Thuram, Messi, etc etc etc. But: how seriously will they be taking it? Will they be up for it after such a massive journey? Will they get bundled out and return home, licking their wounds and complaining about what a waste of time it was? It's possible. About Internacional, we know alarmingly little. What we do know is that they beat the holders of this competition, Sao Paolo, over two legs in the final of the Copa Libertadores. We also know that Brazilian teams are the only teams so far to have won this competition. On that basis, I'm going to Internacional to win the World Club Championships. There are reasons why all of the others either probably or might not win it, but there are none with Internacional, beyond the fact that I haven't heard of any their players.

And that's about it for tonight. If I get the chance, we'll be having a look Manchester United's Busby-sized hangover of the early 1970s, but if not... I'll be speaking to you all from the other side of the world on Saturday.


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