Finally, Morocco took the prize to host the World Football Cup featuring the club champions of every continent, whose participating members this year includes both part-timers Auckland City to all-conquering Bayern Munich.
For the first time, the Kingdom received head-ups as the North African nation to stage the Club World Cup. Morocco has acquired the privilege to stage it two years ago after rivals Iran, South Africa and United Arab Emirates withdrew. Two stadiums will be used, in the coastal resort of Agadir and in Marrakech. Morocco, which hosted the African Nations Cup in 1988, bid to stage the 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Stars comprise of always grinning Brazilian Ronaldinho, who will head Atletico Mineiro’s challenge from South America, Italy World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi and one of the best African players of his time, Mohamed Aboutrika. Ronaldinho, seemingly out of the running for a place in the World Cup squad of Brazil, has recuperated from a hamstring accident just in time for what might have been his final appearance at a global tournament.
Bayern and Atletico Mineiro of Brazil will parachute in at the semi-final stage next week, while the tournament gets under way on Wednesday night in Agadir when Raja Casablanca, who qualified as champions of the host nation, face Oceania representatives Auckland. Rather oddly, Raja warmed up by the tournament by sacking Mohamed Fakhir, the coach who led them to the Moroccan league title last season, and replaced him with Faouzi Benzarti. The Tunisian, who has coached 6 clubs in his homeland and the national side, has had less than a week to prepare his team. Lippi will lead Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande, the first Chinese side ever to take part, and Aboutrika, 35, is in the squad of African champions Ah Ahli after he was persuaded to postpone his retirement.
Auckland, champions of the Oceania confederation which is dominated by New Zealand, are taking part for the fourth time in five years and will be attempting to progress beyond the preliminary round for only the second time. The quarterfinals, which somewhat confusingly feature only four teams, will be played in a double-header in Agadir on Saturday. CONCACAF champions Monterrey, back for a third successive appearance and hoping to become the first Mexican team to reach the final, will face either Raja Casablanca or Auckland for a place against Atletico Mineiro in Wednesday’s semi-final.
The competition has been played in its current form every year since 2005 after being spawned by the old Intercontinental Cup, which was played annually in Tokyo between the champions of Europe and South America