World Club Championship - Tokyo, Japan, December
by Joel Rookwood
The 2005 Club World Championship, Japan
Part One: This is the Club World Championship
Football's global club competition, the FIFA
Club World Championship, has not enjoyed an easy time in seeking
to become the world's most prestigious club tournament. It was Real
Madrid president Jamie Bernard who first proposed the idea for the
event during the 1950s. This was unsurprising, as the Spaniards
had won the European title on five consecutive occasions from its
inception, and doubtless wanted to propel their status still further,
turning continental domination into catholic supremacy. Indeed the
inter-continental competition that began soon after was erected
under the preface that the winners could unequivocally claim to
be the best side in the world.
In reality however, the competition has had difficulty in developing
and maintaining such lofty status. The enhancement of this lagging
reputation has been impeded in no small part by the Europeans, who
have in the past viewed the competition more as a practical inconvenience
than a yardstick for prestige. During the 1970s football's home
continent decided against even sending a representative team. Then
in 1978, when Liverpool decided against participating, the competition
was cancelled. A wise course of action to take, one based on a logical
thought process you might say: 'If the Scousers aren't coming what's
the point', I can only assume must have been the official explanation.
Now forget all this modern hype about most English fans despising
Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal. When I was growing up in South
Liverpool during the 1980s it was Nottingham Forest who were considered
the enemy. And when the Toyota Cup was introduced following the
demise and ultimate cancellation of the World Club Championship,
it was Clough's side who were the cheeky enough to put themselves
in the reckoning for the event.
One league title, that's the sum total of their domestic achievements
- one. And although their European record is more impressive - they
are the only team to have won the European Cup more times than their
own domestic league - the Nottinghamshire minnows still got the
chance to conquer the world. As painful as it is to admit, it was
Forest, having defeated the cream of Europe, who went on to face
opposition from further field in the opening edition of the newly
Cup. Needless to say, they failed, falling at the hands of Uruguay's
Nacional. Cue smug grin and enforced replay of the 5-0 drubbing
of Forest at Anfield one memorable April evening in 1988.
The current format no longer involves a one-off contest between
the Kings of South America and Europe, as was previously the case.
And rightly so, for surely a true world club tournament requires
representatives from the whole world. So this year's event will
incorporate a clash of the continental kings, involving Deportivo
Saprissa of Costa Rica, Australia's Sydney FC, Sao Paulo from Brazil,
Al Ahly of Egypt, Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia, and of course Liverpool
of Liverpool. The six teams will come together for a week-long event
in December; a competition that FIFA are hoping will prove a huge
success and subsequently see its profile propelled on the world
football stage. Of course, if you want to increase the popularity
of something it's always wise to remarket it and then maybe give
it a memorable name. FIFA have clearly adopted this ethos, with
the competition currently known as the 'World Club Championship
Toyota Cup'. Mmm, catchy.
Irrespective of its lengthy title, its inconsistent past and somewhat
clouded current status however, the event will certainly prove a
success in 2005. Why? Simply because it will boast some of the finest
footballing talent on the planet. Millions will surely flock to
television screens to see the likes of Traore, Josemi and Crouch
in action - sporting icons and good looking lads to boot. It's a
In terms of competition structure, the champions of Asia, Oceania,
Africa and North America will play first, which is only fair I suppose.
Liverpool and Sao Paulo will have to wait until the semi-final stage
before meeting the respective winners of the opening two encounters.
So then, prepare yourself for an intercontinental feast of club
football, where the kings of each of the globe's six sub-sections
will commence battle in Toyota, Tokyo and Yokohama for the title
of 'the greatest team in the world',…as soon as I can get
my doctor to sign my sick note to get me out of work for a week,
I'll be on a plane to the Far East to watch the show unfold.
Part 2: Taking to Tokyo
With sunrise still a good two hours away, resisting every natural
urge, I grabbed my bag and headed out the front door and into the
blistering cold. The strong wind coming off the Mersey was particularly
harsh, with my breath about the only thing that was visible in the
foggy street, as I made my way down Leeds Street towards Scottie
Road. Mind you, my eyes were barely open - I was beginning to regret
returning to base at 2am, not to mention forgetting to pack before
going out the evening before. Thankfully the early morning walk
required minimal concentration. It was a familiar trek I was embarking
upon, one that accompanies most match days when Liverpool are at
home. This time however I was off to see the Champions of Europe
play away, and I'm not talking across the park to Everton.
As I approached the junction I saw a taxi with its vacancy light
on hurtling towards me, and so I signaled for the driver to stop.
He couldn't miss me, for there was only the two of us on the road.
Having narrowly avoided the experience of seeing my toes get run
over by the mad jockey in question, I flung the door open, and threw
my bag inside. The conversation that followed went something like
Cabby: Where to lad?
Soft lad: Tokyo please mate.
Cabby: Ha, Manny airport then yeah?
Soft lad: Yeah I suppose so. Ryan Air from Liverpool still won't
take you past the Baltics.
Cabby: You Liverpool fans are nuts, I'll give you that.
I took that final remark as a compliment, on both a personal and
collective level, and we spent the next half hour talking about
Liverpool's defence (with ten clean sheets on the bounce) and our
chances of winning the World Club Championship, which I was traveling
to Japan to see us compete in. He was a blue however, and so having
wished me good luck after dropping me at Terminal 2, his final comment
was "hope you go out in the semi." He then laughed and sped off
for a day working the streets of Liverpool. I thought about ripping
him back, but I didn't have the heart to in the end. Everton do
that to themselves with their consistently laughable displays. Anyway
what did I have to be bitter about? As I bordered plane number one
for Paris, I knew the day ahead would see me flying over Mount Fuji
before pulling in at my final destination. Next stop: Tokyo.
Half a dozen films and a couple of rounds of sushi later, we finally
landed in the Japanese capital. Just as I was considering how sweet
life was however, I hit my first hitch. I could still hear the blue-nose
cabby's laughter ringing in my ear as I discovered my bag was still
in Paris. It comes to something when you start missing the Ryan
Air service, I can tell you. So in the knowledge that it would be
at least a day before I would be reunited with my luggage I headed
to Ginza, renowned as the finest shopping district in the city,
to pick up some emergency replacement items. The spending excursion
didn't last very long though, for having notched up a whole four
hours sleep from a possible forty; I was in need of a little energy
boost. And so, I find myself in this coffee shop, from where I am
journaling my experiences thus far - and just as my brain was beginning
to wonder why it's not 4am but mid-afternoon, it duly forgot its
considerable functioning problems and switched its attentions to
the three stunning Japanese girls who I am currently sat opposite.
In truth this was the real reason for stopping off. They are probably
employed to sit in that window and look lovely. If there aren't,
they should be.
Shall I claim to be on business or pleasure when I coolly ask
for their advice as to what to order from the menu? Actually, on
second thoughts, I can only speak about six words in Japanese, and
my ignorance is bound to do me no favours if they can't speak English.
If that doesn't do the trick, then the fact that I look like death
probably will. I think I'll return to the real world; have a coffee
and leave these impeccably presented Tokyo ladies to their day,
a gentlemanly act that I will regret in about ten minutes time no
doubt. It could have been quite a story for the lads back home.
Note to self: learn Japanese …it looks easy enough after all.
Turning my thoughts to what remains of the afternoon, I suppose
I should try and locate my accommodation before it goes dark. So
next up it's back on the Marunouchi line on the Tokyo underground
in search of a place with a name that has more vowels than we've
won European Cups. Yeah, that many. Hopefully that should lead me
to the apartment where I'll be based for the week, covering Liverpool's
attempt to - as our legendary centre-half Sami Hyypia said the other
night - "rightly claim to be the best side in the world." No wonder
the blues are bitter. Wouldn't you be?
Part 3: So Japaneasy - Liverpool v Saprissa - Yokohama
I must say that it was very charitable of the Costa Rican champions
to travel all the way to Japan, just to provide Liverpool with some
shooting practice in what was the European Champions' final training
session before Sunday's game, which will decide who really is the
greatest team on the planet.
On the face of last night's semi-final, the winners of the continental
title staged by CONCACAF (apparently an abbreviation) would in truth
not look out of place in the English Conference Division; and save
for a few moments in the concluding stages of the game, rarely looked
a side capable of scoring against the might of Merseyside. Not that
notching against the tightest defence in Europe represents an easy
task, of course. Liverpool's resolute back five has now not been
breached in eleven competitive games on the spin, surpassing the
previous record of ten consecutive clean sheets set by Kenny Dalglish's
championship winning side of 1988.
Unbelievably, the side to clinch the record last night included
full backs Traore and Josemi. When it comes to those two lunatics,
hapless isn't the word. The pair are simply a liability. We even
toyed with the Central Americans by taking off influential centre-half
Sami Hyypia before the end. By this time of course the match had
been well and truly sewn up.
Liverpool started the game as though they meant business, with
a well struck shot from that lean mean goal machine Peter Crouch
helping secure a lead inside three minutes. The eight-foot-fourteen
striker was impressive in a collectively commanding first half display,
and could have added to his tally on numerous occasions, before
El Capitano eventually did double Liverpool's lead on thirty-two
minutes, with a well-taken goal of his own. Without ever exerting
any real effort, the Liverpool skipper completely ran the show,
and the Purple Monsters looked in awe both of him and of the occasion
for most of the first half.
Two thousand Scousers have made the trip over to Japan, and the
loyal supporters were rewarded again in the second period with a
second Peter Crouch goal just before the hour mark. The lads back
home must have been throwing their English breakfasts in the air,
as Crouch scored two in a game for the first time since his arrival
at Liverpool. Although we willed him to get his hatrick, that elusive
goal never came his way.
The Kings of Europe were never really threatened by the team referred
to as 'the other Costa Rica' (due to the number of internationals
in the side), whose passing game was reminiscent of that of Everton's
under managers Harvey, Walker, Kendall, Royle, Smith and Moyes.
As Liverpool eased to victory, the words "this is so Japaneasy"
boomed around the stadium from the traveling support, who are as
cocky as Benitez is humble.
We all know that Sunday's final showdown against Sao Paulo however,
is sure to be the biggest test of that water-tight Liverpool defence
the Liverpool manager has developed, since the league meeting with
Chelsea earlier in the season. Let's just hope we send the Brazilians
home with their tale between their legs. For Liverpool have lost
two of these finals to opponents from the Americas, and Rafa's reds
haven't made the six-thousand mile round trip to see us make it
three in a row. Surely, the time has come for the global crown to
make its way to Anfield at long last.
Part 4: Football a la Everton Sydney v Al Ahly - Tokyo
I don't know who to pity more, the two clubs involved in last night's
laughable contest - which was played out somewhat laboriously in
Japan's national stadium - or the fans who had paid to sit through
it. The representatives of Oceania and Asia were playing their final
game, with each bidding to avoid the label of the worst team in
the competition. On the basis of this, it's a shame they couldn't
share the title, for they both seemed worthy of such an accolade.
Even before the match got underway, you couldn't help but think
that surely no good could have come of this game; for to lose serves
as the ultimate humiliation, whilst victory barely elevates your
position beyond such lowly status. As a consolation, at least we
can guarantee next year's event will not adopt the same cruel and
saturated format. For if there's one certainty with any competition
organised by FIFA, it's that change is regular and inevitable -
they like to remind us exactly who's in the driving seat of world
It was a bitterly cold evening in North West Tokyo, with the vast
majority of spectators present evidently requiring little more than
a metro to transport them from their home to the stadium. Those
who had traveled from Egypt were unquestionably outnumbered by the
playing staff they came to support; whilst the only Australians
on show appeared to be the small band of nuggets who clearly think
the chant "let's go Sydney, let's go" is acceptable at a football
The Japanese contingent scattered around the ground filled roughly
a quarter of the 45-odd thousand seats (yeah, I know what you're
thinking …I've done my research). They appeared unconcerned
with the distinctly apparent lack of quality and desire from the
players on the pitch, seemingly content with the fact that they
were afforded the opportunity to see one of their national heroes
together with Dwight
Yorke, both of whom were playing for Sydney. The local fan base
went delirious when the latter opened the scoring, with the former
Aston Villa and Man United striker finding the net ten minutes before
the interval, momentarily breaking the monotony.
With the African champions responding with a goal of their own
on the stroke of half-time to even the scores, some may argue that
you could have been forgiven for thinking the game had some life
in it. This highly subjective observer would of course not have
been so merciful. Make no mistake, this was one woeful game of football,
which in truth you could have predicted having seen the 'warm ups'
of the respective teams. They might as well have had a quick ciggy
followed by a quick game of 'red arse' (a highly technical game
that originated in Liverpool, which involves severe and hilarious
punishment for under-par performance). The match was so bad in fact
that I won't even bother naming the Al Al goal scorer. Let's just
say his name was Mohammad …er Cairo. No, wait, that's too
obvious, let's go for Mustapha Nile.
The second period of this inspiring encounter was equally electrifying,
notable only for the fact that one of the Australians, who went
by the name of Carney, grabbed his moment of fame by striking a
second and ultimately decisive goal for Sydney. Now this might be
a World Championship, with equal opportunity with regards to continental
representation the order of the day; however I think the Aussies
should stick to what they do best. I won't name these characteristics
however, for I'm fiercely opposed to stereotypes. According to the
official match programme though, "football is on the rise in the
land of rugby and cricket." On the basis of this performance, I
see little evidence of that. You would expect more from a team of
such history and tradition to be honest. They were founded back
in 2005 after all.
As for the Egyptians, well, despite a decent local record, as
with all teams nicknamed 'The Red Devils' they came equipped with
customary delusions of grandeur - and as with their more famous
compatriots, when reaching a level of competition that actually
counts for something, they get exposed for what they really are,
which in this case was the weakest team in the competition. What
is more, any team that loses to Sydney really needs to rethink their
very involvement in the sport. I've made the mistake of watching
them once, and if the chance came about to witness a repeat performance,
well in the words of Bill Shankly, "If they were playing at the
bottom of the garden, I'd shut the curtains."
Part 5: Show me the way to go home. The Final: Liverpool v Sao
Paulo - Yokohama
Tragedy has struck - we're not talking disaster in epic proportions
of course, I'm not commenting on a terrorist strike or a tsunami;
but merely a catastrophe within the context of world football. The
heartbreaking tale I'm referring to is Liverpool's ultimately unsuccessful
attempt to bring the World Club Championship to Merseyside for the
first time. Last night the global crown eluded us once again as
the Kings of Europe were subjected to a painful one-nil defeat at
the hands of South Americans Champions, Sao Paulo. Victory for the
Brazilians on a freezing night in Yokohama means that despite having
won our own continental crown on five occasions, we're still yet
to lift the world title: a tragedy indeed.
Liverpool conceded the decisive goal on 27 minutes, when Mineiro
coolly slotted home, following a well-executed move. It was the
first time the watertight defence had been breached since Boa Morte's
strike in a league meeting with Fulham back in October. The proud
record of eleven consecutive clean sheets is now confined to memory
however, and more importantly, so is our dream for world domination
…well, for a year at least. As with 'that final' in Istanbul,
which saw Liverpool qualify for this inter-continental competition,
the first half display was well below par. On this occasion however,
it proved our undoing rather than our inspiration.
Sao Paulo on the other hand illustrated to the footballing world
exactly why they are champions of South America, playing some breathtaking
football in the opening period. With Costa Rican outfit Deportivo
Saprissa having won the play-off for third place in the warm up
game before the final, in front of a largely disinterested crowd,
it is the Americas who have best acquitted themselves in this year's
tournament in Japan. Europe has failed to produce a King of Kings
Liverpool were poor at best in the first half, with the Brazilians
deserving of the advantage they took into the interval. In the second
period however, Sao Paulo were virtually non existent, forced to
desperately defend their slender lead. Liverpool spent the entire
second half orchestrating wave after wave of attacks, bombarding
the Sao Paulo goal from the first whistle until the last. As Liverpool
manager Rafa Benitez said after the game: "The first thing I can
say is congratulations to my players as we deserved to win. We had
21 shots and 17 corners and hit the bar twice and scored three disallowed
goals. We couldn't have done anymore to win."
You can quote all the statistics in the world though, but the
only one that matters is the final score line. One last glimpse
at the scoreboard as the referee blew his whistle for a final time
confirmed for me and the other 66,000 present that the game finished
without us having equalised. Some of the decisions made by the officials
may have been harsh, dubious, ridiculous, even scandalous …but
the simply fact is that with refereeing judgments you're as likely
to be a beneficiary as a victim. We didn't score so we deserved
what we got: nothing.
Liverpool's failure to cancel out the Brazilian's first half strike
outlined our main areas of weakness in terms of personnel, emphasising
in the cruelest of contexts, that despite being European Champions
we still remain three or four short players of being a truly formidable
side. With the transfer window just around the corner, I can only
hope this painful reminder will do more to convince the Liverpool
management that further recruitment is required. Without it, it
could be a while before I'm back in Japan to see us do the job properly.
The Brazilians came in their droves to see their side secure a
famous victory over the mighty Liverpool. I'd love to reflect warmly
on them, and praise them for their gracious acceptance of the triumph,
but sadly they were not the carnivalesque party-loving South Americans
that the media love to portray them as. The vast majority instead
seemed to represent more of the Barra Bravas school of football
fandom. They set the tone for the evening; it was just a shame the
Liverpool team couldn't muster up a goal to put them in their place.
The song, "where's your European Cups?" was one of many chants
to have been lost on the boys from Brazil. Now Liverpool face a
return to reality and the bread and butter of the English League
Championship, with Newcastle and a certain Michael Owen to visit
Anfield on Boxing Day. This is a club and indeed a player to whom
the song in question will prove to be far more stinging. I for one
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