FIFA Club World Cup

FIFA Club World Cup
FIFA Club World Cup logo.svg
Founded2000; 19 years ago (2000)
RegionInternational (FIFA)
Number of teams24 (from 6 confederations)
Current championsSpain Real Madrid
(4th title)
Most successful club(s)Spain Official website
2021 FIFA Club World Cup

The FIFA Club World Cup is an international men's association football competition organised by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport's global governing body. The tournament officially assigns the world title.[1][2] The competition was first contested in 2000 as the FIFA Club World Championship. It was not held between 2001 and 2004 due to a combination of factors, most importantly the collapse of FIFA's marketing partner International Sport and Leisure. Since 2005, the competition has been held every year, and has been hosted by Brazil, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. The FIFA Club World Cup's prestige is perceived quite differently in different parts of the football world; it struggles to attract interest in most of Europe, and it is the object of heated debate in Brazil and Argentina.

The first FIFA Club World Championship took place in Brazil in 2000. It ran in parallel with the Intercontinental Cup (also known as European/South American Cup), a competition played by representatives clubs of most developed continents in the football world, or the winners of the European Champions' Cup (UEFA) and the Copa Libertadores (CONMEBOL), first contested in 1960 and recognized in the aftermath (in 2017) by FIFA as a competition assignee of official world title[3][4][2][5]. In 2005, the Intercontinental Cup was merged with the FIFA Club World Championship, and in 2006, the tournament was renamed as the FIFA Club World Cup. As required by the regulations, a representative from FIFA present the winner of the World Cup with the FIFA Club World Cup trophy and with a FIFA World Champions certificate.[6]

The current format of the tournament involves seven teams competing for the title at venues within the host nation over a period of about two weeks; the winners of that year's AFC Champions League (Asia), CAF Champions League (Africa), CONCACAF Champions League (North America), Copa Libertadores (South America), OFC Champions League (Oceania) and UEFA Champions League (Europe), along with the host nation's national champions, participate in a straight knock-out tournament. The host nation's national champions dispute a play-off against the Oceania champions, from which the winner joins the champions of Asia, Africa and North America at the quarter-finals. The quarter-final winners go on to face the European and South American champions, who enter at the semi-final stage, for a place in the final.

Real Madrid hold the record for most victories, winning the competition four times. Corinthians' inaugural victory remains the best result from a host nation's national league champions. Teams from Spain have won the tournament seven times, the most for any nation.[7] The current champions are Spain's Real Madrid, who defeated Al-Ain 4–1 in the final of the 2018 edition, to win their fourth title in the competition and to become the first team ever to win it three years in a row and four times in total in the tournament's history.


A nighttime view of the Las Vegas strip
Las Vegas, Nevada saw the birth of the competition during FIFA's Executive Committee in December 1993.


Although the first club tournament to be billed as the "Football World Championship" was held in 1887, in which Scottish Cup champions Hibernian defeated English FA Cup semi-finalists Preston North End,[8] the first attempt at creating a global club football tournament, according to FIFA, was in 1909, 21 years before the first FIFA World Cup.[9] The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was held in Italy in 1909 and 1911, and contested by English, Italian, German and Swiss clubs.[10] It was won by English amateur site West Auckland on both occasions.[11] The idea that FIFA should organise international club competitions dates from the beginning of the 1950s.[12] In 1951, FIFA President Jules Rimet was asked about FIFA's involvement in the Copa Rio, and stated that it was not under FIFA's jurisdiction since it was organised and sponsored by the Brazilian Football Confederation (Confederação Brasileira de Futebol; CBF).[13] The competition was succeeded by another tournament, named Torneio Octogonal Rivadavia Corrêa Meyer, which was won by Vasco da Gama.[14] This tournament had five Brazilian sides, and three foreign clubs,[15] thus, losing half of its intercontinental aspect. In December 2007, FIFA turned down Palmeiras' request to recognise the tournament as a Club World Cup since the participants were limited to two continents.[16]

An aerial view of the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Estádio do Maracanã, the location of the first Club World Cup final in 2000 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Although the competition was discontinued, it was held in high regard. FIFA board members Stanley Rous and Ottorino Barassi participated personally, albeit not in their capacity as FIFA members, in the organisation of the competition in 1951.[17] Rous' role was attributed to the negotiations with European clubs, whereas Barassi helped form the framework of the competition. Commenting on Juventus' acceptance to participate in the tournament, the Italian press stated that "an Italian club could not be missing in such an important and worldwide-reaching event".[18]

Because of the difficulty the CBF found in bringing European clubs to the competition, the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper suggested that there should be FIFA involvement in the programming of international club competitions saying that, "ideally, international tournaments, here or abroad, should be played at times set by FIFA". However, no response was received.[19] The Pequeña Copa del Mundo was a tournament held in Venezuela between 1952 and 1957, with a two short revivals in 1963 and in 1965.[20] It was usually played by eight participants, half from Europe and half from South America. After the late 1950s, the tournament rapidly lost status as the pedigree of its participants decreased. This competition, along with the creation of the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores, created the groundwork of the eventual Intercontinental Cup.[20]

Obstacles to the creation of the Club World Cup

We want to win the title, not so much for ourselves but to prevent Racing from being champions.

Jock Stein, Celtic Football Club's manager, 1965–1978, commenting before the play-off match of the 1967 Intercontinental Cup known as The Battle of Montevideo; Evening Times, 3 November 1967.[21]

The Dutch team [Ajax] claimed a victory without any problems and this match was no more difficult than a banal encounter at the European Cup.

—A Dutch newspaper journalist from Amsterdam, commenting on the quality of the competition and Ajax's opponents after the 1972 Intercontinental Cup; De Telegraaf, 30 September 1972.[22]

The indifference of the fans is the only explanation for our financial failure [at the Intercontinental Cup]. It would be much better if we had gotten a friendly similar to the one we would do in Tel Aviv, on 11 January, for US$255,000.

Dettmar Cramer, Bayern Munich's manager, 1975–1977, commenting on the low relevance, prestige and rewards of the Intercontinental Cup after his team's victory in 1976; Jornal do Brasil, 22 December 1976.[23]

The Tournoi de Paris was a competition initially meant to bring together the top teams from Europe and South America to determine a de facto "best club in the world"; it was first disputed in 1957 when Vasco da Gama, the Rio de Janeiro champions, beat host club Racing Paris in the semi-finals and beat two-time European champions Real Madrid 4–3 in the final at the Parc des Princes, the venue of Real Madrid's inaugural triumph in the European Cup.[24] The victory was lauded in Europe and South America as it was Real Madrid's first international competition as European champions that they had not managed to win.[25] Afterwards, Real Madrid secluded themselves from the competition and argued that it should be seen as a friendly tournament from then on.[26] Real Madrid recovered from this defeat to win the first Intercontinental Cup.[27][28]

The Spaniards titled themselves world champions until FIFA stepped in and objected, citing that the competition did not include any other champions from the other confederations; FIFA stated that they can only claim to be intercontinental champions of a competition played between two organisations in which no one else had the opportunity to participate.[29] FIFA stated that they would prohibit the 1961 edition to be played out unless the organisers regarded the competition as a friendly or a private match between two organisations.[30] That same year the Intercontinental Cup was first played, FIFA authorised the International Soccer League to be contested with ratification from Sir Stanley Rous, who had become the FIFA President by that point.[31]

Although FIFA hoped to eventually transform the International Soccer League into a Club World Cup, the Intercontinental Cup had attracted the interest of other continents.[32] The North and Central America confederation, CONCACAF, was created in 1961 to organise its intentions of allowing its clubs to participate in the Copa Libertadores and, by extension, the Intercontinental Cup.[33] However, their entry into both competitions was rejected. Subsequently, the CONCACAF Champions' Cup began in 1962.[34] FIFA was asked by CONMEBOL and UEFA in 1963 to make the Intercontinental Cup official; however, FIFA gave the same response as in 1960 and stated that they would only recognise the competition if the Asian and African champions were included.[35]

Due to the brutality of the Argentine and Uruguayan clubs at the Intercontinental Cup, FIFA was asked several times during the late 1960s to assess penalties and regulate the tournament.[36] However, FIFA refused each request.[37] The first of these requests was made in 1967, after a play-off match labelled The Battle of Montevideo.[38] The Scottish Football Association, via President Willie Allan, wanted FIFA to recognise the competition in order to enforce football regulation; FIFA responded that it could not regulate a competition it did not organise.[21] Allan's crusade also suffered after CONMEBOL, with the backing of its President Teofilo Salinas and the Argentine Football Association (Asociación del Fútbol Argentino; AFA), refused to allow FIFA to have any hand in the competition stating:[39]

René Courte, FIFA's General Sub-Secretary, wrote an article shortly afterwards stating that FIFA viewed the competition as a "European-South American friendly match".[40] This was confirmed by Sir Stanley Rous. With the Asian and North American club competitions in place, FIFA opened the idea of supervising the competition if it included those confederations; the proposal was met with a negative response from UEFA and CONMEBOL. The 1968 and 1969 Intercontinental Cups finished in similar fashion, with Manchester United manager Matt Busby insisting that "the Argentineans should be banned from all competitive football. FIFA should really step in."[41]

In 1973, French newspaper L'Equipe, who helped bring about the birth of the European Cup,[42] volunteered to sponsor a Club World Cup contested by the champions of Europe, South America, North America and Africa, the only continental club tournaments in existence at the time; the competition was to potentially take place in Paris between September and October 1974, with an eventual final to be held at the Parc des Princes. The extreme negativity of the Europeans prevented this from happening.[43] L'Equipe tried once again in 1975 to create a Club World Cup, in which participants would have been the four semi-finalists of the European Cup, both finalists of the Copa Libertadores, as well as the African and Asian champions.[44] However, UEFA, via its president, Artemio Franchi, declined once again and the proposal failed.[45]

With the Intercontinental Cup in danger of being dissolved,[46] West Nally, a British marketing company, was hired by UEFA and CONMEBOL to find a viable solution in 1980;[47][48][49] Toyota Motor Corporation, via West Nally, took the competition under its wing and rebranded it as the Toyota Cup, a one-off match played in Japan.[50][51] Toyota invested over US$700,000 in the 1980 edition to take place in Tokyo's National Olympic Stadium (国立霞ヶ丘陸上競技場), with over US$200,000 awarded to each participant.[52] The Toyota Cup, with its new format, was received with scepticism, as the sport was unfamiliar in the Far East.[53][54] However, the financial incentive was welcomed, as European and South American clubs were suffering financial difficulties.[55] To protect themselves against the possibility of European withdrawals, Toyota, UEFA and every European Cup participant signed annual contracts requiring the eventual winners of the European Cup to participate at the Intercontinental Cup, as a condition UEFA stipulated to the clubs' participation in the European Cup, or risk facing an international lawsuit from UEFA and Toyota.[56] In 1983, the English Football Association tried organising a Club World Cup to be played in 1985 and sponsored by West Nally, only to be denied by UEFA.[57]

The Interamerican Cup and the Afro-Asian Club Championship were tournaments created to allow those regions their own Club competitions, in large part due to the refusal of UEFA and CONMEBOL to allow CONCACAF, AFC and CAF clubs to compete in the Intercontinental Cup.[58]

Birth of the FIFA Club World Cup (2000–2001)

Manchester United see this as an opportunity to compete for the ultimate honour of being the very first world club champions.

Martin Edwards, Manchester United's chairman, 1980–2002, commenting on the FIFA Club World Championship; British Broadcasting Corporation News, 30 June 1999.[59]

The framework of the 2000 FIFA Club World Championship was laid years in advance.[60] According to Sepp Blatter, the idea of the tournament was presented to the Executive Committee in December 1993 in Las Vegas, United States by Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan's president.[61] Since every confederation had, by then, a stable, continental championship, FIFA felt it was prudent and relevant to have a Club World Championship tournament. Initially, there were nine candidates to host the competition: China, Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Tahiti, Turkey, the United States, and Uruguay; of the nine, only Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay confirmed their interest to FIFA. On 3 September 1997, FIFA selected Brazil to host the competition, which was initially scheduled to take place in 1999.[62] Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton, a pillar of England's victorious campaign in the 1966 FIFA World Cup, stated that the Club World Championship provided "a fantastic chance of becoming the first genuine world champions."[63] The competition gave away US$28 million in prize money and its TV rights, worth US$40 million, were sold to 15 broadcasters across five continents.[63] The final draw of the first Club World Championship was done on 19 October 1999 at the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.[64]

There they were claiming that the English weren't interested in the world championship, yet the BBC sent 60 people to cover the tournament. This shows that it was the most important competition that they have taken part in in their history. They came here thinking they were going to win easily but they didn't count on the strength of Vasco. No Manchester player would get a place in the Vasco team at the moment. The Brazilians are the best players in the world, the Europeans do not even come close.

Eurico Miranda, Vasco da Gama's vice-president, 1986–2000, commenting on the importance given to the tournament by the British news media, the level of European club football as well as Brazil's after his side's 3–1 win over Manchester United; Independent Online, 11 January 2000.[65]

The inaugural competition was planned to be contested in 1999 by the continental club winners of 1998, the Intercontinental Cup winners and the host nation's national club champions, but it was postponed by one year. When it was rescheduled, the competition had eight new participants from the continental champions of 1999: Brazilian clubs Corinthians and Vasco da Gama, English side Manchester United, Mexican club Necaxa, Moroccan club Raja Casablanca, Spanish side Real Madrid, Saudi club Al-Nassr, and Australian club South Melbourne.[66] The first goal of the competition was scored by Real Madrid's Nicolas Anelka against Al-Nassr; Real Madrid went on to win the match 3–1.[67] The final was an all-Brazilian affair, as well as the only one which saw one side have home advantage.[68] Vasco da Gama could not take advantage of its local support, being beaten by Corinthians 4–3 on penalties after a 0–0 draw in extra time.[69][70]

The second edition of the competition was planned for Spain in 2001, and was supposed to feature 12 clubs.[71] The draw was performed at A Coruña on 6 March 2001.[72] However, it was cancelled on 18 May, due to a combination of factors, most importantly the collapse of FIFA's marketing partner International Sport and Leisure.[73] The participants of the canceled edition received US$750,000 each in compensation; the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) also received US$1 million from FIFA.[74] Another attempt to stage the competition in 2003, in which 17 countries were looking to be the host nation, also failed to happen.[75][76] FIFA agreed with UEFA, CONMEBOL and Toyota to merge the Intercontinental Cup and Club World Championship into one event.[77] The final Intercontinental Cup, played by representatives clubs of most developed continents in the football world, was in 2004, with a relaunched Club World Championship held in Japan in December 2005.[78]All the winning teams were regarded by worldwide mass media and football's community de facto as "world champions"[79][80][81] until 2017 when FIFA officially (FIFA Club World Cup winners.[3][82]

Play-off tournaments (2005–2018)

A group of association football players, who played for FC Barcelona at the time of the photo, lifting their coach after winning their second FIFA Club World Cup.
Pep Guardiola is hoisted in the air after Barcelona won the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup, crushing Santos 4–0 in the final.

The 2005 version was shorter than the previous World Championship, reducing the problem of scheduling the tournament around the different club seasons across each continent. It contained just the six reigning continental champions, with the CONMEBOL and UEFA representatives receiving byes to the semi-finals. A new trophy was introduced replacing the Intercontinental trophy, the Toyota trophy and the trophy of 2000. The draw for the 2005 edition of the competition took place in Tokyo on 30 July 2005 at The Westin Tokyo.[83] The 2005 edition saw São Paulo pushed to the limit by Saudi side Al-Ittihad to reach the final.[84] In the final, one goal from Mineiro was enough to dispatch English club Liverpool;[85] Mineiro became the first player to score in a Club World Cup final.[86]

Internacional defeated defending World and South American champions São Paulo in the 2006 Copa Libertadores finals in order to qualify for the 2006 tournament.[87] At the semi-finals, Internacional beat Egyptian side Al Ahly in order to meet Barcelona in the final.[88] One late goal from Adriano Gabiru allowed the trophy to be kept in Brazil once again.[89][90] It was in 2007 when Brazilian hegemony was finally broken: AC Milan disputed a close match against Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds, who were pushed by over 67,000 fans at Yokohama's International Stadium, and won 1–0 to reach the final.[91] In the final, Milan crushed Boca Juniors 4–2, in a match that saw the first player sent off in a Club World Cup final: Milan's Kakha Kaladze from Georgia at the 77th minute.[92] Eleven minutes later, Boca Junior's Pablo Ledesma would join Kaladze as he too was sent off.[93] The following year, Manchester United would emulate Milan by beating their semi-final opponents, Japan's Gamba Osaka, 5–3.[94] They saw off Ecuadorian club LDU Quito 1–0 to become world champions in 2008.[95][96]

Corinthians won their second world title after defeating Chelsea 1–0 in the final, capping off a year which saw them undefeated in international matches with just four goals conceded.

United Arab Emirates applied, with success, for the right to host the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 and 2010.[97] Ruing from their defeat three years earlier, Barcelona dethroned World and European champions Manchester United in the 2009 UEFA Champions League final to qualify for the 2009 edition of the Club World Cup.[98] Barcelone beat Mexican club Atlante in the semi-finals 3–1 and met Estudiantes in the final.[99] After a very close encounter which saw the need for extra-time, Lionel Messi scored from a header to snatch victory for Barcelona and complete an unprecedented sextuple.[100][101][102][103][104] The 2010 edition saw the first non-European and non-South American side to reach the final: Congo's Mazembe defeated Brazil's Internacional 2–0 in the semi-final to face Internazionale, who beat South Korean club Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 3–0 to reach that instance.[105][106] Internazionale would go on to beat Mazembe with the same scoreline to complete their quintuple.[107][108]

The FIFA Club World Cup returned to Japan for the 2011 and 2012 edition.[109] In 2011, Barcelona comfortably won their semi-final match 4–0 against Qatari club Al Sadd.[110] In the final, Barcelona would repeat their performance against Santos; this is, to date, the largest winning margin in the final of the competition.[111] Messi also became the first player to score in two different Club World Cup finals.[112] The 2012 edition saw Europe's dominance come to an end as Corinthians, boasting over 30,000 travelling fans which was dubbed the "Invasão da Fiel", travelled to Japan to join Barcelona in being two-time winners of the competition.[113][114] In the semi-finals, Al-Ahly managed to keep the scoreline close as Corinthians' Paolo Guerrero scored to send the Timão into their second final.[115] Guerrero would once again come through for Corinthians as the Timão saw off English side Chelsea 1–0 in order to bring the trophy back to Brazil.[69][116]

2013 and 2014 had the Club World Cup moving to Morocco. The first edition saw a Cinderella run of host team Raja Casablanca, who had to start in the play-off round and became the second African team to reach the final, after defeating Brazil's Atlético Mineiro in the semi-final.[117] Like Mazembe, Raja also lost to the European champion, this time a 2–0 defeat to Bayern Munich.[118] 2014 again had a decision between South America and Europe, and Real Madrid beat San Lorenzo 2–0.[119]

The 2015 and 2016 editions once again saw Japan as hosts for the 7th and 8th time respectively in the 12th and 13th editions of the FIFA Club World Cup. The 2015 edition saw a Final between River Plate and FC Barcelona. FC Barcelona lifted their third FIFA Club World Cup, with Suarez scoring two goals and Lionel Messi scoring one goal in the Final. One notable thing that occurred in the 2015 tournament was that Sanfrecce Hiroshima made it to third place, the farthest ever achieved by a Japanese club. This record would not last though, as the 2016 edition saw J1 League winners Kashima Antlers making it to the Final (outscoring rivals 7-1), against Real Madrid. A Gaku Shibasaki inspired Kashima attempted to win their first FIFA Club World Cup (a feat never done by any club outside of Europe and South America), but were denied by Real Madrid, who won 4-2 in extra time, thanks to a hat-trick by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The UAE returned to host the event in 2017 and 2018.[120][121] 2017 involved the likes of Real Madrid becoming the first team in Club World Cup history to return to the tournament to defend their title. Real Madrid became the first team to successfully defend their title after defeating Grêmio in the Final, all while eliminating Al Jazira in the Semi-Finals. Al-Ain was the first Emirati team to reach the Club World Cup final,[122] as well as the second Asian team to reach the final in the 2018 edition. Real Madrid defeated Al-Ain 4–1 in the final, to win their fourth title in the competition and to become the first team ever to win it three years in a row and four times in total in the tournament's history. Thus, Real Madrid extended their international titles to 7 after winning the 2018 edition (counting their 3 Intercontinental Cup titles and 4 Club World Cup titles).

Expansion (from 2021)

In late 2016, FIFA President Gianni Infantino suggested an expansion of the Club World Cup to 32 teams beginning in 2019 and the reschedule to June to be more balanced and more attractive to broadcasters and sponsors.[123] In late 2017, FIFA discussed proposals to expand the competition to 24 teams and have it be played every four years by 2021, replacing the FIFA Confederations Cup.[124]

The new tournament, planned to start in 2021, would be held every four years instead of annually, would feature 24 teams and 31 matches. It would include all UEFA Champions League winners, UEFA Champions League runners-up, Europa League winners and Copa Libertadores winners from the four seasons up to and including the year of the event, with the remainder qualifying from the other four confederations.[125] Along with a new Nations League competition, revenues of $25 billion would be expected during the period from 2021 to 2033.[126]

In March 2019, FIFA decided to expand the Club World Cup and skipped the 2019 and 2020 tournaments.[127]

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