Comprised of the champion from every continent where soccer matches are contested, the FIFA Club World Cup kicks into high gear today as European champions Bayern Munich and Asian kings Guangzhou Evergrande square off in the semifinals.
The match in Agadir, Morocco kicks off at 2:30 p.m. ET and pits against each other two of the game’s finest tacticians, Pep Guardiola, who has won just about every title one can at club level in Europe in his time at Barcelona and now with Bayern Munich, and Marcello Lippi, famous for guiding Italy to the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany crown. Since taking the reins in 2012, the Italian led Guangzhou their first AFC Champions League triumph and to the first continental treble in Asia.
While the managers will enjoy a competitive test of wits, there’s an obvious gulf in quality of the players.
Bayern Munich, treble winners themselves in Europe, will be without the injured Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Holger Badstuber, but still boast reigning UEFA Best Player in Europe Franck Ribery, Germany captain Philipp Lahm, rising star Mario Gotze and a deep roster littered with world-class talent.
Guangzhou, as Chinese Super League rules require, has only four foreign players, and is led by Chinese National Team Captain Zheng Zhi, who spent three years in Europe playing for Charlton Athletic and Celtic before he was released. They rely on three lesser-known South American players, Elkeson and Muriqui of Brazil and Dario Conca of Argentina, for their heartbeat.
Lippi knows beating der FCB is a big ask for his men. Not only is there a gap in skill, but Guangzhou has played 65 games this year, while Bayern’s season is really just beginning.
“We know that Bayern are one of the best teams in the world,” Lippi said. “We’d probably lose 99 out of 100 games against them, though maybe our one and only win will come in the semifinals here.”
This marks Bayern’s first game in the FIFA Club World Cup, while Guangzhou made their debut in the quarterfinals, dispatching of traditional Egyptian power Al Ahly 2-0 on Saturday.
A win for Guangzhou would be historic. A win for Bayern Munich would be expected. The only question, really, is how much the Bavarians will put into this tournament.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the last 12 months and we want to end 2013 on a high note,” shot-stopper Manuel Neuer said. “These matches between the best clubs from each continent give us the chance to show that we really are the number-one side.”
The winner of today’s contest will face the victor of Wednesday’s match between Cinderella-story Raja Casablanca, who qualified as champions of the host country, and the heavily favored South American champions Atletico Miniero, led by Ronaldinho, in the final on Saturday in Marrakech, Morocco.
This is the 10th FIFA Club World Cup. After the initial tournament was held in 2000, there was a hiatus until 2005, and it’s been played every year since then. Clubs hailing from Europe have hoisted the crown five times, while South American teams have won the other four titles. Corinthians defeated Chelsea 1-0 in the final last year.
This tournament is the first competition that will use the adidas Brazuca ball bound for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. Though adidas went through countless hours of on-field testing with the Brazuca prior to rolling it out earlier this month, fans will finally get a glimpse of the ball, how it flies, bounces and its innovative six panel design responds to conditions in these games in Morocco.
Who are you backing to win today? Will the Southern China Tigers win and hold up their motto to “Be the best forever,” or will the Bavarians advance?
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