Club World Cup preview – Barcelona the ones to beat

South American champions Rivert Plate are expected to provide the stiffest test for favourites Barcelona.

Club America (Mex)

Club America

The story so far
America are arguably the biggest team in Mexico. They have won the most titles (12) since the advent of professionalism in the country in 1943 and, according to recent surveys, they have surpassed arch-rivals Guadalajara as the best supported side in the league. They are owned by media-giants Televisa and have traditionally been associated with the country’s elites, although nowadays their fanbase spans every strata of Mexican society. Their last title was the 2014 Apertura, which allowed them to participate in the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League, which they subsequently won, to reach the Club World Cup.

How they qualified
for Japan America beat MLS side Montreal Impact 5-3 on aggregate in  the Final of the CONCACAF Champions League, but had to come back from being a goal down at half-time in the return leg after salvaging a late 1-1 draw in Mexico City. Three goals in 17 minutes gave them a 4-2 victory in Canada and the ticket to Tokyo. On their way to the Final, Las Aguilas (“the eagles”) finished top of a group with Comunicaciones of Guatemala and Puerto Rico’s Bayamon, before eliminating Costa Rican sides Saprissa and Herediano.

Coach    
A Mexico international who played at USA 94, Ignacio Ambriz is the most advanced student of former national coach Javier Aguirre, to whom he was assistant in Spain with Osasuna and Atletico Madrid. He was in sharge of San Luis, Guadalajara and Queretaro with modest success before his appointment at the helm of America in July 2015. Although the fans wanted someone more high profile, he eventually won them over with an attacking and entertaining style of play. He is still, however, on a short leash and a bad result in the Club World Cup could put his job in danger.

At 35 years old and 85kg

Moises Munoz
Moises Munoz looks more like a professional wrestler than a footballer, but behind his bulky physique he is one of the most consistent keepers in the country – and he even scored the goal that won the Clausura 2013, running the length of the pitch to head in a corner.

How they line up
America will display a tactical flexibility in the Club World Cup. Against Guangzhou Evergrande they will probably line up in a 4-3-3 with only one anchorman, two attacking midfielders and three pure forwards. If they go through, they will definitely show a more restrained face against Barcelona, with a 4-4-1-1 with two holding midfielders.

TP Mazembe (DRC)

TP Mazembe

The story so far
A fifth continental title for TP Mazembe elevated the club from the backwater of Lubumbashi
in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo to second in the standings of the most successful club of all time in African competition.Their success in this year’s CAF Champions League, achieved almost without breaking sweat, confirms their status among the continent’s best club sides ever – even if there was a period of more than three decades in which they performed in purgatory before reclaiming former glories. Founded by Benedictian monks in 1939, they were also runners-up in 1969 and 1970 and, with seven finals appearances, jump above Zamalek into a spot behind Al Ahli.

How they qualified
Mazembe were the only club from south of the Sahara to qualify for the group phase of this year’s African Champions League yet they saw off the challenge of the Arabic-speaking north with consummate ease. They topped their group to advance to the semi-finals, where they beat Al Merreikh of Sudan 4-2 on aggregate to book a place against USM Alger in the decider. The Algerian side had been impressive in the group stage with a run of five successive wins but turned out to be no match for Mazembe in the Final. The Congolese had Rainford Kalaba sent off before half-time of the first leg and missed a penalty yet still finished with a 2-1 win and then sauntered through the return match at home to lift the trophy.

Coach    
Patrice Carteron played for Laval, Rennes, Lyon and Saint-Etienne and had a short loan spell at Sunderland, before coaching at Dijon and taking them into the French top flight in 2011. Led Mali to third place at the 2013 African Nations Cup final before taking over Mazembe, where he has a contract that ends in January.

Star Player

Mbwana Samatta
Mbwana Samatta. Seven goals in the Champions League thrust 23-year-old Tanzania international into the spotlight as he proved the pivot for Mazembe’s ascension to the Champions League throne. Comes from a footballing family and has been linked with a possible move to Belgium or France in the transfer window.

How they line up?
America will display a tactical flexibility in the Club World Cup. Against Guangzhou Evergrande they will probably line up in a 4-3-3 with only one anchorman, two attacking midfielders and three pure forwards. If they go through, they will definitely show a more restrained face against Barcelona, with a 4-4-1-1 with two holding midfielders

The story so far
Auckland City are, by some distance, Oceania’s most successful club side of recent times. This
will be their fifth consecutive appearance at the Club World Cup – and seventh in total – following their remarkable achievements in Morocco a year ago when they stunned the football world by finishing third. While they are theoretically an amateur club, City have professional approach and have long been the benchmark for other clubs in the region.

Auckland City (NZ)

Auckland City
How they qualified
Victory in the OFC Champions League Final came courtesy of a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw with New Zealand rivals Team Wellington. City reached the Final without conceding a goal and missed a penalty in extra-time against Team Wellington before eventually winning the shoot-out 4-3. Tempers flared after the final whistle and members of the two sides had to be separated.

Coach    
Ramon Tribulietx has overseen a period of unprecedented success as Auckland City coach and it seems only a matter of time before the 43-year-old Spaniard is tempted away by an overseas offer. Tactically, he has always managed to set his team up to suit their opposition; in the New Zealand domestic league, opposition teams tend to sit back, meaning City need to be clever in possession and probe for openings, while in the Club World Cup they are more likely to be a side that looks to contain their opponents.

Star Player

Angel-BERLANGA
Club talisman and winner of the Bronze Ball at last year’s Club World Cup, Ivan Vicelich has been ruled out with injury this time but will take the role of assistant coach. In his absence, Spanish centre-back Angel Berlanga takes the armband and will try to get forward where possible.

How they line up
Tribulietx is under no illusions that his side will spend long periods without the ball in Japan, so extensive work has been put into the shape the team will adopt when not in possession, enabling them to limit the attacking opportunities of the opposition. While chances may be few and far between, they have quick, skilful strikers who could cause problems.

Guangzhou Evergrande (Chn)

Guangzhou Evergrande

The story so far
Helped by major investment, Guangzhou Evergrande have come from almost nowhere to be the biggest club in Asia. A World Cup winning coach, Brazilian internationals, much of the Chinese national team and an average attendance of over 46,000: this is a club with major ambitions – not just to win in Asia but the world, too. In 2014, Evergrande, a conglomerate that started out in property and bought the club in 2010 for $16million, sold half to Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, one of the biggest e-commerce sites in the world. The price was $192m. With five successive Chinese Super League titles and two of the last three Asian titles, they are deadly serious about the Club World Cup.

How they qualified
Under Fabio Cannavaro, in his first coaching job, Guangzhou made it out of the Champions League group with few worries, before squeezing past two-time former champions Seongnam in the last eight. In June, out went the Italian and in came Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazilian led the team to narrow victories over Japanese opposition Kashiwa Reysol and Gamba Osaka and then a 1-0 aggregate win over Al Ahli of Dubai in the Final.

Coach    
Scolari is known around the world after winning the 2002 World Cup with Brazil and then being on the receiving end of a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany in the semi-final of the 2014 edition. The former Chelsea coach was something of a surprise appointment in June as the team appeared to be doing fine under Cannavaro. However, the club wanted a Brazilian and had been chasing Scolari for some time,

Star Player

Zhang
Robinho is the best known – though not registered for the Asian Champions League – but most eyes will be on Zhang. Just as the August transfer window shut, Chelsea came in with a bid but it was refused and there are rumours in southern China that a deal with Real Madrid has already been done.

How they line up
With the addition of Paulinho in the summer, the team has more drive and creativity from a midfield that was a little on the pedestrian side. It’s still solid though, with Chinese national team captain Zheng Zhi gaining in tactical intelligence and leadership what he lacks in speed. Look out for the driving runs of Zhang Linpeng down the flank. Ricardo Goulart is given freedom in the final third and is as happy pulling the strings or being picked out in the area. Under Scolari the team are not quite as free-scoring a before but are more solid at the back.

River Plate (Arg)

River Plate

The story so far
The Buenos Aires club have been revived under coach Marcello Gallardo and sports director Enzo Francescoli, both former players. In August they won the Libertadores Cup after a 16-year wait, having won the Sudamericana Cup and the South America Super Cup in the preceeding months – meaning they currently boast an impressive full house of continental titles.

How they qualified
Won the Libertadores Cup for the third time in the club’s history, defeating Mexican side Tigres.

Coach    
Marcello Gallardo had three spells with the club as a player, winning six league titles, plus the Libertadores and Sudamericana Cups. He also played in France for Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, and won 44 caps for Argentina, scoring 13 international goals. Took over River in June 2014 and renewed his contract this August, tying him to the club until 2017.

Star Player

Matias Kranevitter River Plate
The club’s midfield playmaker will leave River and head to Spain after the tournament in Japan, having agreed a deal to join Atletico Madrid for €8million. Made his international debut in August and seen in Argentina as the long-term successor to Javier Mascherano.

How they line up
Gallardo likes his sides to press heavily and the coach tends to rotate his squad on a regular basis. He is also flexible with his formation, occasionally moving to a back three and pushing the wing-backs further forward. Kranevitter plays the classic number five role in deep midfield. Veteran forward Javier Saviola is an option on the bench.

Barcelona (Sp)

Barcelona
The story so far
Barca to Japan with the Spanish media debating whether the current team is the club’s greatest ever. Certainly, the forward line of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez has been in wonderful form, culminating in the 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid (see page 24). Fears that the current transfer ban – which expires in January – would weaken the squad have proved unfounded; new arrivals, including summer signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, are expected in the new year.

How they qualified
Beat Juventus 3-1 in Berlin to win the European Cup for a fifth time in the club’s history. The victory enabled Barca to complete a treble of Champions League, La Liga and Spanish Cup to emulate the feat of Pep Guardiola’s 2008-09 side. That team managed a record six titles in the calendar year of 2009. The current side cannot match that, having lost the Spanish Super Cup, though they did beat Sevilla in a dramatic UEFA Super Cup.

Coach    
Former midfielder Luis Enrique is well versed in the club’s tactical philospohy, having cut his coaching teeth with Barca’s youth teams before spells at Roma and Celta Vigo. Took over as head coach in summer 2014, enduring a difficult start before everything fell into place as the 2014-15 campaign progressed

Star Player

Lionel Messi
The world’s best player is a shoe-in for the end-of-year awards after his starring role in Barcelona’s silverware sweep last season. He missed much of the autumn through injury but recovered to appear as a substitute in the classico thrashing of Real Madrid.

How they line up
Enrique’s team play Barca’s familiar free-flowing passing game but can also go more direct, slowing down the pace of a game before hitting precise long diagonal passes to the front three attackers. Enrique has limited options on the bench, although Sergi Roberto is a versatile young attacker and Munir El Haddadi can inject pace as an impact sub. Claudio Bravo has been the favoured keeper in La Liga, while Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has started the Champions League games.

Sanfrecce (Jap)*
Toshihiro Aoyama

The team from Hiroshima won the J.League title in 2012 and 2013. They competed in the 2012 Club World Cup as the host team, beating Auckland City but then losing to African champions Al-Ahly. They then beat Ulsan Hyundai in the fifth/sixth place play-off. Toshihiro Aoyama is their most accomplished player.

* Unfortunately, the identity of qualifying club from Japan was undecided at the time we went to press – hence the lack of of a complete preview for Sanfrecce.

Play-off for quarter-finals
10 December 2015, 19:45
Sanfrecce Hiroshima v New Zealand Auckland City (Match 1)

International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama

Quarter-finals
13 December 2015, 16:00
América v Guangzhou Evergrande (Match 2)

Nagai Stadium, Osaka

13 December 2015, 19:30
TP Mazembe Democratic Republic of the Congo v Winner Match 1 (Match 3)

Nagai Stadium, Osaka

Match for fifth place
16 December 2015, 16:30
Loser Match 3 v Loser Match 2 (Match 4)

Nagai Stadium, Osaka

Semi-finals
16 December 2015, 19:30
Winner Match 3 v Argentina River Plate (Match 5)

Nagai Stadium, Osaka

17 December 2015, 19:30
Barcelona Spain v Winner Match 2 (Match 6)

International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama

Match for third place
20 December 2015, 16:00
Loser Match 5 v Loser Match 6 (Match 7)

International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama

Final
20 December 2015, 19:30
Winner Match 5 v Winner Match 6 (Match 8)

International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama