The FIFA Club World Cup is about to kick off in Morocco, and Real Madrid have a huge advantage to continue European football’s stranglehold on the competition.
Starting on Wednesday, the tournament will see six more sides compete with the Spanish giants for the chance to be crowned the best club team on the planet.
Here’s what you need to know:
Which teams are participating?
The 19th edition of the Club World Cup brings together the champions of each of FIFA’s six premier regional competitions, along with the champions of the host league.
Real Madrid will be joined at this year’s tournament by teams from Morocco, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil and the United States.
Here is the full list of those participating:
- Al Ahly, Egypt
- Al Hilal, Saudi Arabia
- Auckland City, New Zealand
- Flamengo, Brazil
- Real Madrid, Spain
- Seattle Sounders, United States
- Wydad AM, Morocco
Real Madrid, Auckland City, Seattle Sounders, Flamengo and Wydad AC qualified as outright winners of their confederation’s biggest club tournaments.
Host league champions Wydad AC also won the Confederation of African Football (CAF) last year, giving Egyptian runners-up Al Ahly a place in Africa at the Club World Cup.
Al Hilal was nominated by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to represent the region as it is the current champion in the AFC Champions League. The latest iteration of the tournament will only end after the Club World Cup.
The way to #KlubWC glory! 🏆 🤩
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) January 13, 2023
Where is the tournament played?
The host of this year’s competition is Morocco, for the third time so far.
The tournament was last held in the North African country in 2014, when Real Madrid beat Argentina’s San Lorenzo 2-0 to win the title.
This year’s matches will be played in two stadiums – the 65,000-seat Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier and the 52,000-seat Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat.
How does the format work?
In the opening match of the tournament, Al Ahly will play against Auckland City at the Ibn Batout Stadium.
The winners will play the Seattle Sounders on February 4. Wydad AC will play Al Hilal on the same day.
Real Madrid and Flamengo will automatically enter the procedure at the semi-final stage, with the Brazilian team facing either Wydad AC or Al Hilal on February 7.
The Spanish giants will be in action a day later, against Seattle Sounders, Al Ahly or Auckland City.
The play-off for third place will precede the final on February 11. Both matches will be played at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium.
The format is set to change radically in the coming years, with FIFA planning an expanded competition to include 32 teams to be held every four years starting in 2025.
Who are the favorites to win?
Real Madrid are outright favorites to win this year’s competition, with the Spanish side looking to become the first team in history to lift the fifth Club World Cup trophy.
The biggest threat to their ambitions could be Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular team. The team from Rio de Janeiro will make up for the loss against the English Liverpool in the final of the 2019 edition, which is hosted by Qatar.
The last nine teams to win the competition have been from Europe, with the continent having produced winners for 14 of the 18 editions held so far since the first in 2000.
South America provided the only check on their success, with Brazilian clubs coming first four times in the tournament’s history, most recently in 2012 when Sao Paulo’s Corinthians beat England’s Chelsea.
No team from any other region has ever won the Club World Cup, which has been held annually since 2005 after a five-year hiatus following the first edition.
Who are the players to watch out for?
Real Madrid’s star line-up will garner most of the attention in Morocco, with veteran French striker Karim Benzema and prodigious Brazilian winger Vinicius Junior among the squad’s brightest talents.
But there are a few players from other teams worth keeping an eye on as well.
Among them is Salem al-Dawsari, a winger for Al Hilal from Saudi Arabia. The 31-year-old shone at the recent World Cup in Qatar, scoring for Argentina in the Green Falcons’ shock win against the eventual champions during the tournament’s group stage.
Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, 35, will also be hoping to offer a reminder of his heroics and lead Flamengo to their first Club World Cup victory.
Vidal’s team-mate and prolific striker Gabriel Barbosa, 26, is expected to pose a threat to the Brazilian team in attack. He has scored 65 times for Flamengo in 105 appearances to date and led his side to victory in the 2022 Copa Libertadores final against Athletico Paranaense.