By Paul Nicholson
December 16 – It took a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo to wake up the European football ‘world’ to FIFA’s often unloved Club World Cup in that region. The significant story of this competition, however, is perhaps not Real Madrid’s extra time win but that the European Champions were pushed by another team from Asia making a mark in world football.
Japan’s Kashima Antlers were the first-ever Asian club to appear in the FIFA Club World Cup Final and produced a technical and tactical display to force the tie into extra time in Yokohama, before the brilliance of Ronaldo struck, twice to make the final score 4-2.
It wasn’t just the teams in the final that drew praise. FIFA President Gianni Infantino commended Japanese organisers saying: “I want to thank the JFA for the work they have done in helping organise this fantastic event, and the Japanese people, whose love for football continues to inspire me. It is inspiring not just for me but everyone who is involved with football and wants this sport to develop.”
It is the way that development is taking place that was highlighted by Japan FA president Kohzo Tashima: “I feel the difference between the continents is narrowing down and other confederations are becoming stronger, and now Kashima have been able to advance to the final. The Japanese football family are in love with this tournament.”
In a separate statement Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa congratulated Kashima Antlers and hailed Asia’s teams and players for a strong set of achievements in 2016.
“There is no doubt that 2016 will be remembered as a year when the AFC made significant progress on the world stage.
“I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Kashima Antlers for battling bravely against Real Madrid in the final and showing immense resolve and fighting spirit throughout the competition…
“The success of Kashima exemplifies the progress of football development in both Japan and Asia as well as the dedication and hard work undertaken by the JFA.”
He added: “I must also praise all the other AFC teams and players who have performed admirably and done Asia proud this year.”
“The world has witnessed our world-class achievements this year, as Asian teams progressed to three FIFA competition finals, with two World Cup victories. Our performances have reinforced the message: this is Asia’s time to shine.”
The final of FIFA Women’s U-17 World Cup in Jordan was a significant milestone in Asian football, with the competition host, match officials and both finalists coming from the region – DPR Korea beat Japan in the final. DPR Korea also won the FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea earlier this month.
Earlier this year, Islamic Republic of Iran recorded the highest ever finish for an AFC nation – third place – in the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia, beating Portugal and defending champions Brazil along the way.
In 2017 Korea Republic host the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May and the India host the FIFA U-17 World Cup in October. The FIFA Club World Cup will switch to the United Arab Emirates for the next two editions.
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