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Creating a Better Club World Cup

Imagine if the World Cup was every single year, but it only featured the best team from every region. Imagine that the best nation from each of Europe and South American entered in the semis of a knockout bracket.

Stop imagining.

You essentially have the Club World Cup. A tourney so minor it makes the Confederations Cup look like a big deal. A tiny 7 team tourney that takes a few regional champions, let’s those in "growth" regions look to play maybe two games against major world teams, and crowns the team at the end the best in the world.

Except that most people don’t really care. Inter Milan had a cake walk, and while they won, do you really think they wanted this trophy more than Serie A, the Cup or Champions League? Would an English team care more about the Carling Cup? Probably.

Can FIFA do anything to make this thing matter more? Almost certainly, and the answer isn’t more prize money. The answer is more teams, and less frequency. Make it a marquee tourney with several of the best teams in the world.

First, cut it back to once every cycle for the summer after the World Cup. This gives more time to actually host the event, and mitigates concerns over interrupting the precious European league calendar. Yes, there will be some tourneys then - Euro qualifiers, the Gold Cup, etc. But not as much stuff going on as there is in early December. Shoe-horning something into a two or three week stretch shouldn’t interfere too much and the sides taking part are scattered over the World. There will never be a perfect time.

Second, take the Champions of the last two regional club championships for everywhere but Oceania. They’ll get only one, as they don’t have any pro teams that take part. This puts the entries at 11. The host nation gets their league champion for 12. Sure, a small tournament could be done with 12 teams in 3 groups with winners and a best second advancing. But would the Euro sides really take it any more seriously with just two of their teams taking part?

So let’s add four more teams. To respect that South American sides have done well in the tourney so far let’s give each of UEFA and CONMEBOL two more. One could give those two slots to the non-winning finalist of the regional championships, but that would not do one of FIFA’s favorite things - growing the game.

Instead, let’s take the last two Europa League and Copa Sudamericana winners. For Europa several winners have come from non-traditional soccer powers, and for Sudamericana it would provide an additional reward to winning a touch tourney generally dominated by teams from Argentina and Brazil. Oh, and those FMF sides that get into Libertadores and Sudamericana? If they win, they go to the new Club World Cup.

That’s 16 teams, which fits into a very tight two weeks, or a relatively easy three. A week for pre-tourney training in the host nation(s) would mean that soccer fans in say Canada (if they hosted) would get to see 4 top Euro sides, 4 top South Americans, 2 Asia, 2 Africa, 2 North American, 1 Oceania and their league/cup winner.

How would such a tournament look?

Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Inter Milan




LDU Quito


Shakhtar Donetesk

Atletico Madrid


Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma


Pohang Steelers


Hekari United

TP Mazembe

Esperance ST


That puts the two UEFA CL winners with the "easiest" seeding facing off against host nation’s best and Oceania’s best. It also looks a lot more interesting to a European viewer. That’s if this year’s tourney happened at this time of year.

The hypothetical with Eastern Canada as host would have either their last V-Cup winner (Toronto FC) or the MLS Cup Winner (Colorado Rapids) depending on the small detail of the odd Canadian status.

How does that fit into just two weeks?

Group Stage
Sat with two double-headers (Groups A and B)
Sun with two double- headers (Groups C and D)
Monday Off
Tuesday A&B
Wed C&D
Thursday off
Friday A&B
Sat C&D

Sun off
Mon A v B quarters
Tues C v D quarters
Wed, Thurs off
Friday Semi Finals
Sat off
Sunday Final

The heavy double-header schedule would result in just a two week tourney, with only 10 days off for Finalists. But these teams have many more players on roster than the 23 of the World Cup. It would also put the most important matches on weekends, which are best for TV.

By having greater overall quality in the tournament it would increase interest in the developed soccer regions (particularly UEFA), and by the emerging regions having the opportunity to see two (or three) of their participants play multiple games and maybe get some wins it would be a point of honor.

If Inter Milan won a tourney where they had to fight their way through that compressed schedule beating the likes of al-Wahda, Pachuca, LDU Quito, Independiente, Atletico Madrid and Shaktar Donetsk (let’s just say the UEFA teams win out) that would be quite a title. If a team like Mazembe made a run to the Final as they did this year they would have to be better than Atlante, Shaktar Donetsk, Internacional (Brazil), Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. That would be a hell of a historical run.

While the Club World Cup is a good idea, it needs to get much closer to the real World Cup. More teams of higher quality with significant time dedicated to the event. This is one way that FIFA could do it, while continuing to grow the sport in the non-traditional regions. Particularly by awarding hosting rights on a rotating basis between CONCACAF, AFC and CAF. This would mean a real Club champion is crowned not just in Tokyo/Dubai, but in other regions that deserve to see the world’s best.

Just imagine Cascadia hosting such an event. Or Eastern Canada. Or Texas. Or the American South. Huge teams with huge draws coming to play games that matter.

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