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FIFA World Club Championship: A Second Look

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The problem I fear with approaching any non-European competition as an admitted a priori “avid PL supporter”, as  does Mr. BD Condell in a prior piece posted on this site, is that one tends to be blinded by one’s predispositions and miss what virtues there may be in such competitions.  

While concurring in Soccerlens’ correspondent  Condell’s disparaging view of many elements of  this tournament, I also fear his disdain teeters over at some points into outright scorn, rather unfairly given the quality of some of the actual play; and that this imbalanced and perhaps prejudicial treatment calls for a bit of redressing.

The Eurocentric prejudice against less familiar manifestations of world football I’m here addressing holds true especially in the case of Latin American competitions, and tends also to extend into a general disregard for the contributions of Latin American clubs in international competitions in general. 

Granted Latin American football doesn’t much resemble European football–it boasts less raw power, and probably also less pace than one might expect from the EPL, if not also from La Liga, and perhaps even from Serie A  (though has anyone ever sincerely accused Serie A of being the least bit pacy?)–it also offers relative virtues of its own: more touches, more finesse, more grace, and, in this writer’s modest view, more true fighting spirit.

The present Japan world club tournament is no exception.  The sometimes farcical nature of the set-up and proceedings may well have caused others along with Mr. Condell to see this as a shambolic clown show to be laughed at and ignored in anticipation of the ultimate appearance of the semi-divine grandees from Manchester, who have pretty much been accorded the championship before even venturing out of the hotel mass-autograph-sessions to bother to  touch stud to pitch.

But in the quarter-finals we did–as is unfortunately not reported by the possibly slightly-biased Mr. Condell–see one wonderful match.  Al Ahly, the skilled and brave Egyptian club here representing Africa, looked indomitable for most of the night against Mexican CONCACAF representative Pachuca; but in the second half Pachuca came roaring back, tied the match at 2-2 late-on with a score by Argentine forward Christian “Chaco” Gimenez, working an adroit 1-2 with his fellow Argentine Bruno Marioni, then scored twice again in extra time–the ultimate winner put in by another of Pachuca’s experienced and talented Argentine contingent, Damian “El Chilendrino” Alvarez, with an insurance goal coming on Gimenez’s second of the night.  Marvelous and utterly exciting game, in short, whichever side you may have been rooting for.

Then, after enduring the intervening descent into admittedly dull matches involving the pretty ordinary Oceanian and Asian representatives–never more than straw opponents anyway, vying in futility for the anticipated dubious honour of being knocked out by  imperious United in the semis–came the semifinal between Pachuca and Copa Libertadores winner Liga de Quito of Ecuador, representing the South American continent.

You may not have heard of the latter club unless you’re enough of a football fan to have looked in on their recent victorious Libertadores campaign, crowned by a fantastic conquest away to Fluminense in the caldron of Rio de Janeiro; but if you were lucky enough to see any of that, you’ll know that Liga represents no straw opponent for anybody.  This is a wicked-good football club.

As I’d expected unreason got the better of me and I ended up, after three nights up working on the Mexico gran final piece posted elsewhere on this site (Tears of Joy: Mexican Apertura 2008 Final), not sleeping again, opting instead for tuning in at 2.30 a.m. to the  Pachuca/Liga semi-final in Japan.

And the game I thought was bad/good, with the good winning out on balance. The weather conditions and crowd apathy: very bad. Reminded me of 2002 Copa Mundial and why I hate watching games played in Far East: unless local teams are involved (in which case we observe mass robotic beehive-culture fanatic brainless crowd support), nobody in the stadium  understands or cares what’s happening save the few loyal traveling supporters. Thus here, a few dozen Pachuca fans made more noise than the “neutral crowd.”

But the football they saw, despite awful conditions, had some real quality I thought. The ultimate winners from Ecuador sported in their starting eleven the nucleus of the same wonderful Liga club we aficionados of Latin football all know from the Libertadores—the night’s two scorers Bieler and Bolanos,  plus Manso, Riesgo, Cevallos, all the key players from last year save the excellent,  now-departed winger Guerron. Once behind 2-0, in a nasty cold rain, Pachuca had an impossibly slippery hill to climb.

But this was the same veteran club that  had fought back so courageously to defeat Al Ahly a few nights earlier, and you could see they believed in the possibility of doing the same here—si se puede! Were I a Pachuca loyalist, I’d have been disappointed on the night yet nonetheless would have felt no shame in holding my head high afterward, given the battling performance of my defeated club.  And were I an Argentine (instead of merely a foolish old norteamericano) I’d be entirely proud of the fighting spirit shown, pretty much for pride’s sake, by the venerable Pachuca front line of Gimenez-Alvarez-Marioni… luchando, peleando till the end. Pachuca must have outshot Liga by 20-8 or so, dominated possession by something like an 80/20 ratio, made many great late chances, just could not manage to llegar–get there in the end– but left all their hearts on the pitch nonetheless.

So: I took that good  (excellent competitive football of  a pleasantly high quality) from the otherwise bad (the rest of the tournament, i.e. games not involving the three clubs from Africa and Latin America).   Mixed views on the tournament so far, then–but please let’s not entirely dismiss it, as Mr. Condell has done.

You can probably tell from all this that in my heart I had really wished for a Pachuca/United final. And as it is, I expect LDU to give United a run for their money. Anyone else feel likewise?

Comments (13)

  1. But..but…isn’t football only played in England? Or Spain?

  2. Tom, where to start. Let’s go here:

    “The problem I fear with approaching any non-European competition as an admitted a priori “avid PL supporter”, as does Mr. BD Condell in a prior piece posted on this site, is that one tends to be blinded by one’s predispositions and miss what virtues there may be in such competitions.”

    I believe in my article that I pick this competition-up, turn it upside down and inside out in an effort to find any virtues and end up drawing a blank I’m afraid. My criticism has nothing to do with the possibility of the ‘odd’ good game in the tournament but that in no way justifies its existence.

    “I also fear his disdain teeters over at some points into outright scorn”

    Only at some points! Scorn was my intention from the outset! :(

    “The Eurocentric prejudice against less familiar manifestations of world football I’m here addressing holds true especially in the case of Latin American competitions, and tends also to extend into a general disregard for the contributions of Latin American clubs in international competitions in general”

    Rubbish! I thoroughly enjoy what little Argentinian and Brazilian football I see. All fans are geoghraphy centric in terms of where they focus their football following attention(none more so than yourself with the Mexican centric tendency, but that’s not a criticism). It remains a fact, however, that the best players from South America gather at the big European clubs which is why the European Champions League is actually the Club World Cup, just without the title.

    Now Tom, in trying to establish your position I’m reading that you refute my view (in part at least) because you saw a couple of decent contests?

    That in no way addresses the issues I raise with this competition in my article:
    1.Only 1 of the 7 teams could be rated in the Top 50 teams in the world (possibly Top 100) so that’s a joke for starters.
    2.The format is ridiculous.
    3.It does not catch the attention of the world footballing public or the media.
    4.It does not promote the objectives of FIFA.
    5.It is no more than a jolly for FIFA delegates.

    Hell, you can go down the park on Saturday and see a decent game. The games you refer to were not covered in my part of the world anyway (Australia).

    Here’s a quote from the BBC correspondent in Japan (Steve Wyeth….yes, you guessed it, well down the pecking order of BBC journalists which says a lot in itself):

    “The cynic in me questions just how seriously you can take a competition where three of the seven teams had been eliminated before United even touched down in Tokyo.”

    And from a poster on the same site:

    “It is a bit rich saying the 39th game is impossible then flying to Japan for two games in this tournament.”

    Now there’s a man after my own heart.

    While you assert a couple of times in the article that you share some of my views on the tournament you don’t specify which ones. In short Tom, time to get off the fence and decide whether you’re for or against the competition and the reasons need to be WAY better than “I saw a good game the other night.”

    As for myself, I don’t bother contributing on something unless I’m squarely one side of the fence or the other. In fact, as Ahmed will no doubt testify, most of the time I can’t even see the fence. :(

  3. I stopped reading mid-way after the 4 paragraph and took to reading bits and pieces This article does not look like it was written for ordinary football fans. mOre like a page taken out of a physics textbook.
    “Eurocentric prejudice against less familiar manifestations of world football?’
    ” farcical nature of the set-up?”
    Im not critizising, in fact you really write very well and your command of English and Latin i think is excellent, but sometimes you got to know who your audience are. whether Bd Condell is guilty or not of being biased at least he writes well enough to be understood by all.

  4. BD–You’re exactly right, I saw a couple of good games involving three pretty good clubs. That satisfactory bit was probably more than I got out of–just to draw the comparison–the entirety of the Champions League group stages. (Hold that, the Aalborg games were okay–but who can deny that the CL so far has been an absolute bore…).

    Otherwise, yes, the show is pretty much pure rubbish, as you suggest.

    But you know it’s funny. There are indeed fans in Central and South America who take this tournament seriously. A Brazilian friend who supports FC Sao Paulo found it very interesting some years ago to see his club compete with the Europeans. And though finally Liga de Quito wasn’t even better than Pachuca–despite the scoreline–don’t be too surprised if they give United something to think about. And that would matter to fans in Ecuador, South America and Central America perhaps more than you might think. After all, winning the Copa Libertadores is a pretty big deal in those regions, and the prize that comes of it is a chance to compete in this (admittedly rather chintzy) tournament.

  5. Tom, I’m not questioning the excitement level of individual games just the rationale for such a competition and matching these teams together (no direspect to any team involved). The early stages of the CL always produce some poor matches and with it being a group process, even more so but that competition is established as one of the premier competitions in the world with huge interest and ratings well beyond Europe.

    Equally I don’t consider this a sleep walk for Utd. I’ve no doubt that Gamba (in front of a home audience) and Liga, should Utd get thru, will give them a hell of a game and Utds motivation will also be questionable. Paul Scholes is on record as saying he would rather stay at home and prepare for EPL matches!

    I also accept the South/Central American point, having read Tim Vikery’s piece on the subject. However, i wonder is this interest confined to the supporters of the participating teams or do fans in (say) Argentina and Brazil also get involved with it? (this year I mean.)

    My main gripe, which is probably obvious by now, is that my own team are disadvantaged vis-a-vis other key competitions by having to participate in a competition that, as I see it, has no real standing or prestige. The timing is a particular problem for Europe which may not apply to some of the other teams who have different league calendars.

    The real baraometer for me is that, as a liflong Man Utd fan, it won’t cost me a thought if they don’t win this whereas if they lose a PL or CL game I’m gutted. Not sure how this translates to your feeling about Pachuca?

    But I accept that not everybody, even Utd fans, hold the same view.

    Is it reflective of the general interest in the competition that, despite 2 articles on the subject we’ve more or less ended up debating this among ourselves!? :)

  6. Paul Schole said he rather be at home than play in this tournament.
    How many United fans echo his sentiments?
    instead of worrying about more pressing issues like how to close the gap on Liverpool and Chelsea, they have to fulfil a Fifa obligation or rather Blatter(EGO)!. Is it really worth the effort?
    World Champions? But for in whose company?
    Gamba Osaka- A team not known outside the Japanese Peninsular
    Adelaide United- Whose fans inAustralia is probably know more about footie than football
    Pachuca, a name that does not ring a bell if you look back at recent history in world football
    LDU Quinto, whose players are not known beyond the South Atlantic
    For United to be crown World Champions by winning just 2 matches against unknown oppostitons echoes only of emptiness and embarrassment

  7. BD – fyi it’s Vickery, not Vikery.

    as for the Gamba game, don’t know if you people saw it but it was good entertainment, at least for the last 20-25 mins or so.

    I’m gutted no matter when United lose. Each defeat hurts just as much, especially when I’m watching the bloody game. The mind knows that CL and EPL is more important, but a League Cup loss or a friendly loss hurts just as much.

    EPL – you’re just jealous because Pool lost in 2005 :)

  8. Maybe Ahmed but we sure had some quality oppostions to fight with unlike the competition you have now. At least there are some good looking guys to ogle at this time. :=)

  9. EPL: If Pachuca don’t ring a bell for you, maybe you ought to try looking them up. There are Pachuca fans who don’t care a fig for the English Premier League.

    The team you call “LDU Quinto” is actually called Liga de Quito. Quito is a city in Ecuador. I wonder if people there are in the habit of insulting distant cultures that are strange to them. Or, on the other hand, whether they might not be intelligent enough to inform themselves just a bit before sounding off.

    (Actually you might be surprised to hear that most South American football fans I know are at least sophisticated enough to be aware that the name of that ginger midfielder with United– the one you mention at the top of your last post– has an “s” on the end of it.)

  10. Not worth the time to get into a word war with you when i was clearly explaing that United were playing in a tournament which crowns them world champions after playing two games against 2 teams not even listed in the top 50 world rankings. If my post got you to spew foam out of your nose then i rather let you ramble on then bother to reply to your childish fanatic retorts again.

    • EPL – I think the point being made is that because the teams being played against are not in Europe does not make them less worthy opponents.

      Also, playing champions from one region against champions from other regions is a fair way to find a world champion. After all, it’s the same principle that the Champions League is built upon (until they allowed non-champions to enter as a way to expand and make more money).

  11. Yes Ahmed i understand whats being said and its back to the round table again, Champion League is for champions not second place third place, The Cup World Cup is a useless tournie supplementing the ego of Blatter. Its a matter of opinion.My opinion its a useless unfair tournament.United one of the world’s best club challenging for the world title against teams not known outside their continent.now that is a fact. Just cuz people in my region never heard of any of the teams before or made the effort to learn about the team does not make us at fault one bit and that does not give any Tom, Clark or Kenny rights to accuse us so. You want the world to know your team go lobby not cry and critisize. just cuz people in CHINA does not know who Torres is its stupid of me to start nitpicking at their football or culture.