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World Club Championship - Tokyo, Japan, December 2005

by Joel Rookwood

Club World Championship - Tokyo, Japan, December 2005.

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 erected Toyota 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 marketer's dream.

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

Club World Championship - Tokyo, Japan, December 2005.

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 this:
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

Club World Championship - Tokyo, Japan, December 2005.

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

FC Sydney v Al Ahly, Club World Championship.

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 football.

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 match.

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 Kazu, 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

Japanese Sao Paulo fans, Club World Championship.

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 once again.

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 can't wait.

Guide To Tokyo
Guide To Yokohama
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Euro Red Diary | Euro 2004 | World Cup 2002

Club World Championship. Half Time - Club World Championship. Club World Championship, Tokyo Japan.

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