BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
The 15th edition of the FIFA Club World Cup kicks off in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday with host club Al-Ain FC going up against Team Wellington FC, the Oceania Champions League title holders.
That fixture marks the first round of the championship, which will also have champions of Europe (Real Madrid, the tournament’s defending champions) and that of South America (River Plate) entering in the semi-finals, while African champions Espérance, their Asian counterparts Kashima Antlersand CD Guadalajara, the champions of North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) will get involved from the quarterfinals.
Based in the city of Al-Ain, Abu Dhabi, the host club are the most successful side in the UAE having won the most titles (32), including 13 UAE Pro-League trophies, six President’s Cups and five Super Cups. Al-Ain is the only UAE club to have claimed the Asia Champions League.
This is their first time in the FIFA Club World Cup, which is the same situation with their opponents Team Wellington FC, New Zealand’s semi-professional club based in the suburb of Miramar in Wellington.
The winning team will go on to face Espérance on Saturday. The Tunisian side won the 2017/18 CAF Champions League last month, to make it the third time they will lift that trophy.
At their first time in this competition in 2011, Espérance lost their first match,which was in the quarterfinals, to Asia’s Al-Sadd SC 1-2 and also got beaten 2-3 by CONCACAF’s CF Monterrey in the fifth placed match.
Africa’s best performances have been runners-up status achieved by TP Mazembe in 2010 and Raja Casablanca three years later.
In all the past 14 editions, champions have only come from Europe (10 times) and South America (4). Past winners included Barcelona and Real Madrid (three times each)with AC Milan, Inter Milan, Manchester United and Bayern München also crowned champions.
South America dominated the first three editions through Corinthians, São Paulo FC and Internacional as champions while Corinthians won it again after five years of European victories.