By Samindra Kunti
December 12 – Real Madrid will seek to defend their Club World Cup title this week in a bid to revive their season. Gremio from Brazil and Pachuca from Mexico look to be their biggest challengers in the tournament that kicked off in the United Arab Emirates last Wednesday.
The European champions enter the competition at the semi-final stage on Wednesday when they will play the United Arab Emirates Pro-League champions, Al Jazira, who eliminated New Zealand’s Auckland City in the play-off round and followed up with a win over Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds, the Asian Champions, in the quarter-final.
But it is Brazilian side and Copa Libertadores winners Gremio who square off against Mexican side Pachuca who look like providing their fiercest opposition to retaining their crown. Like Real Madrid, Gremio play their first match at the semi-final stage. Pachuca made it to the semi-final by defeating Wydad Casablanca of Morocco after extra-time in the last eight.
At Madrid, Zinedine Zidane is under severe pressure. Real are fourth in La Liga after 15 games, eight points adrift of rivals and leaders Barcelona. Before Christmas Madrid welcome their arch rivals for a crucial El Clásico. In the Champions League, the defending champions were drawn with Paris Saint-Germain, pitting the might and myth of the Galacticos against Qatari influence in the French capital.
The pressure is relentless for Zidane, even in a calendar year when Los Blancos have already claimed La Liga, the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Supercopa de Espana, and Zidane is keen on adding another trophy to the cabinet. There is no sign he is taking the competition lightly and named a full-strength squad for the trip to the United Arab Emirates.
“It will not be easy and last year we had a lot of problems before we managed to win it,” said Zidane.
“There will not be easy games and for just being Real Madrid we are not going to win. We have time to prepare for the game and there are no excuses. This is the calendar and whoever we face we need to look at doing what we have to do well.”
“It is normal that during the season you have ups and downs, but what we have done so far is very positive. We have won two titles and we are trying to win a third.”
In the near future Madrid and other Champions League winners may have to contemplate tougher opposition from a wider field as FIFA consider expanding the Club World Cup to replace the dwindling Confederations Cup. The revamped tournament would potentially tap into the revenue streams of club football, European in particular, and allow FIFA greater financial stability.
The Club World Cup was first staged by Brazil in 2000, with Manchester United representing Europe following their dramatic 2-1 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich. Their participation was controversial as it was part of deal to allow them to withdraw from the FA Cup. The European champions were knocked out after a 3-1 defeat against Rio de Janeiro club Vasco Da Gama.
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