Sunday, December 9, 2007

FRIDAY NIGHTS AND THE GATES ARE LOW

Fifa World Club Cup.
On Friday 7th December the opening match of the FIFA World Club Championship was played between Waitakere United of New Zealand and Sepahan of Iran. In this the third tournament to be held in Japan FIFA decided to alter the format slightly in order to boost attendances. Having attended in 2005, I would agree with their idea of the league winners from the host nation competing, as surely all games they play would be sold out. So with the opening game moved back to a Friday I decided to alter my schedule in order to attend such a game.

In the meantime the winners of the six confederations were playing out their own cup competitions to decide who would be there in Japan. In the Asian Cup Urawa Red Diamonds beat Sepahan 3-1 to qualify in their own right. But then I realised that Sepahan had been awarded a place at the tournament as only one team from the host country were allowed to compete. At the time Urawa held a ten point league, with four games to go and so the decision seemed fair enough. Urawa though managed to lose the title on the last day of the season to Kashima Antlers and were also knocked out of the Emperor's Cup.

So as a result of Urawas success in the Asian Cup the opening fixture was decided. Bearing in mind that the purpose of this competition is to find the best club side in the world, casting an eye down the Waitakere line up, made me think that FIFA might be changing the format again in the very near future. Danny Hay, Neil Emblem and Darren Bazeley (remember any of them?) all started for the New Zealand side. Knowing nothing about this team I read up in the programme and found that they come from just outside Auckland, have a stadium with a capacity of 8,000 and their home town is shown as a field of sheep!

So it was no surprise that Sepahan raced into a 2-0 lead within three minutes. Their Iraqi striker Emar Mohammed finding himself on a hat trick with a full 86 minutes to go. The format of the competion means that the winners go on to play Urawa Red Diamonds in a quarter final and then if successful play again on Thursday and on Sunday. So it was no surprise that Sepahan slowed the pace down and conserved energy. The first half fizzled out with a series of wayward long range shots which were never going to test the goalkeeper. Or so I thought.

With the second half just a few minutes old another long range shot, but this time it was on target, the goalkeeper had it covered, in fact it was possibly going wide, until he let it through his hands and into the net. Not content with this, as Sepahan played out time Waitakere applied pressure and the Iranian goalkeeper (a paid up member of the goalkeepers union) decided to push the ball into his own net, under the slightest pressure from Danny Hay the Waitakere captain.

The crowd was 24,788 the lowest so far for an opening game. While FIFA is being idealistic in allowing a team from New Zealand to compete for this title I wonder how long it will take before a rankings system is put into place for clubs worldwide and the entrants to be decided from this. Meaning that you have the best in both footballing and in all probability financial terms.

Ross Clegg

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