One of the competitions football fans look forward to at the end of each year is the FIFA Club World Cup. The tournament is an interleague men’s association football competition organized by the world’s football governing body, FIFA.
The competition, which officially assigns the world title, was first contested in 2000 as the FIFA Club World Championship. It was not held between 2001 and 2004 due to a combination of factors, most importantly the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner International Sport and Leisure.
Since 2005, the competition has been held every year and has been hosted by Brazil, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Qatar. Views differ as to the cup’s prestige: it struggles to attract interest in most of Europe and is the object of heated debate in Brazil and Argentina.
The first FIFA Club World Championship took place in Brazil in 2000. It ran in parallel with the Intercontinental Cup, a competition played by the winners of the UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores, from 2000 to 2004, with the champions of each tournament both recognized in 2017 by FIFA as official club world champions.
In 2005, the Intercontinental Cup was merged with the FIFA Club World Championship, and in 2006, the tournament was renamed as the FIFA Club World Cup. The winner of the Club World Cup receives the FIFA Club World Cup trophy and a FIFA World Champions certificate.
The current format of the tournament involves seven teams competing for the title at venues within the host nation over a period of about two weeks. The winners of that year’s AFC Champions League (Asia), CAF Champions League (Africa), CONCACAF Champions League (North America), Copa Libertadores (South America), OFC Champions League (Oceania) and UEFA Champions League (Europe), along with the host nation’s national champions, participate in a straight knock-out tournament.
The host nation’s national champions contest a play-off against the Oceania champions, from which the winner joins the champions of Asia, Africa, and North America in the quarter-finals. The quarter-final winners go on to face the European and South American champions, who enter at the semi-final stage, for a place in the final.
Real Madrid holds the record for most victories, winning the competition four times since its inception. Teams from Spain have won the tournament the most times, with seven wins produced from that nation. Corinthians’ inaugural victory remains the best result of a host nation’s national league champions.
The current champions are Liverpool, who won their first title following a 1–0 win in extra time against Flamengo in the 2019 final at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
The first final of the competition was an all-Brazilian affair, as well as the only one which saw one side have home advantage. Vasco da Gama could not take advantage of its local support, being beaten by Corinthians 4–3 on penalties after a 0–0 draw in extra time
The second edition of the competition was planned for Spain in 2001, and it was supposed to feature 12 clubs. However, it was canceled on May 18, due to a combination of factors, most importantly the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner International Sport and Leisure.
The 2005 edition saw São Paulo pushed to the limit by Saudi side Al-Ittihad to reach the final. In the final, one goal from Mineiro was enough to dispatch English club Liverpool; Mineiro became the first player to score in a Club World Cup final.
Internacional defeated defending World and South American champions São Paulo in the 2006 Copa Libertadores finals in order to qualify for the 2006 tournament. At the semifinals, Internacional beat Egyptian side Al-Ahly in order to meet Barcelona in the final. One late goal from Adriano Gabiru allowed the trophy to be kept in Brazil once again.
It was in 2007 when Brazilian hegemony was finally broken: AC Milan disputed a close match against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds, who were pushed by over 67,000 fans at Yokohama’s International Stadium, and won 1–0 to reach the final.
In the final, Milan defeated Boca Juniors 4–2, in a match that saw the first player sent off in a Club World Cup final: Milan’s Kakha Kaladze from Georgia at the 77th minute. Eleven minutes later, Boca Juniors’ Pablo Ledesma would join Kaladze as he too was sent off.
The following year, Manchester United would emulate Milan by beating their semifinal opponents, Japan’s Gamba Osaka, 5–3. They saw off Ecuadorian club LDU Quito 1-0 to become world champions in 2008.
Barcelona dethroned World and European champions Manchester United in the 2009 UEFA Champions League final to qualify for the 2009 edition of the Club World Cup. Barcelone beat Mexican club Atlante in the semifinals 3–1 and met Estudiantes in the final.
After a very close encounter which saw the need for extra-time, Lionel Messi scored from a header to snatch victory for Barcelona and complete an unprecedented sextuple. The 2010 edition saw the first non-European and non-South American side to reach the final.
Congo’s Mazembe defeated Brazil’s Internacional 2–0 in the semifinal to face Internazionale, who beat South Korean club Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 3–0 to reach that instance. Internazionale would go on to beat Mazembe with the same scoreline to complete their quintuple.
In 2011, Barcelona would once again show its class after winning their semifinal match 4–0 against Qatari club Al-Sadd. In the final, Barcelona would repeat its performance against Santos; this is, to date, the largest winning margin by any victor of the competition.
The 2012 edition saw Europe’s dominance come to an end as Corinthians traveled to Japan to join Barcelona in being two-time winners of the competition.
In the semifinals, Al-Ahly managed to keep the scoreline close as Corinthians’ Paolo Guerrero scored to send the Timão into their second final. Guerrero would once again come through for Corinthians as the Timão saw off English side Chelsea 1–0 in order to bring the trophy back to Brazil.
Real Madrid holds the record number of victories in the competition with four. Corinthians remain the only club World Champion to have qualified to the competition by being the host nation’s national champion while Barcelona and Real Madrid hold the record for the most final appearances with four.
TP Mazembe, Raja Casablanca, Kashima Antlers and Al-Ain are the only non-European and non-South American clubs ever to reach the final, with those feats being accomplished during 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2018 editions, respectively.