Rabat: Real Madrid are favourites for a record-extending fifth success at the Club World Cup, and in the process keeping up European dominance over South America in the annual tournament, which kicks off in Morocco on Wednesday.
Real, who won previously in 2014 and then three successive tournaments from 2016 to 2018, are on course for a showdown with Flamengo of Brazil in the final but both must play a semi-final match first before they can set up an intriguing decider in Rabat on Feb. 11.
European clubs have won the last nine editions of the event, dominating since 2012 when Brazil’s Corinthians beat Chelsea in the final in Japan in a rare South American success.
Last year’s Champions League and Copa Libertadores winners only join once the tournament reaches the final four stage but it begins on Wednesday when Egypt’s Al Ahly, who qualify as one of two African representatives, meet Auckland City in Tangier in an opening playoff tie.
The Oceania champions from New Zealand compete for a record 10th time in the tournament against the equally experienced Cairo giants, who are at their eighth Club World Cup.
That winner advances to a quarter-final clash on Saturday against Seattle Sounders. The U.S. club won last year’s CONCACAF Champions League but had a miserable Major League Soccer campaign.
African champions Wydad Casablanca can expect passionate home support for their game the same day against Asian counterparts Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia. Wydad’s squad includes three players from the Morocco team that reached the World Cup semi-final in Qatar in December.
Flamengo will only play their first game in the semi-final on Feb. 7 and Real Madrid one day later.
The tournament will be used to experiment further tweaks to the Video Assistant Referee system as referees will, for the first time, explain the reasons for VAR decisions to the crowd at the stadium and the television audience.
During the trial, referees will relay their decisions via a microphone connected to the public address system, though their conversation with video officials will remain private.
The tournament in Morocco is among the last with the current format as FIFA have announced they will host an expanded Club World Cup with 32 teams in mid-2025.