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Wednesday, 5 January, 2000, 18:23 GMT
World Championship's own goals

Maracana stadium, Rio Maracana stadium: not ready on time

By BBC correspondent Guy Delauney

The Club World Championship brings together the top football sides from each continent with the winner earning the right to be called the best team on earth. At least that is the theory.

World Club Championship
Every major sporting event seems to have its last-minute hiccups and this championship, hosted by Brazil, is no different.

With the tournament about to start, one of the main venues still was not ready. Rio's famous Maracana stadium was being hastily converted into an all-seater stadium, but the work had not been completed.

And for the Brazilian fans, getting used to the idea of sitting down in one of football's greatest theatres might take some time.

'Top form'

But football's world governing body Fifa is confident that everything will run according to plan.

"This is the first Fifa event in Brazil for half-a-century, since the World Cup in 1950, and in that half-century, Brazil has pretty well dominated world football and so obviously a Fifa event taking place in their own back yard, they're inevitably excited about," said spokesman Keith Cooper.

"And with two very popular Brazilian clubs playing, at least one of whom is right at the top of its form it would seem, the interest here is certainly very, very high."

if it wasn't a Manchester United/Real Madrid final, then we would all be rather surprised
John Toshack, former manager Real Madrid
The idea behind the Club World Championship is simple. Take the reigning champions of each of the international football confederations, get them to play up to four games in 10 days, and see who comes out on top.

But it has not quite worked out that way. Of the eight teams taking part, only four are current champions.

Two years ago, the Spanish side Real Madrid confirmed their status as the most successful European club side of all time by winning the Champions League.

But Real's reign is over - so quite why they will be taking part in the opening match of the inaugural Club World Championship is a bit of a mystery.

Real Madrid Real Madrid: hoping for success after a poor season
Real kick off against another side with a shaky claim for participation - Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia. They are representing Asia - instead of the continent's reigning champions, the Japanese side Jubilo Iwata.

But neither side will be worrying too much about their eligibility. Real are having one of the worst domestic seasons in their history and an international tournament could be just the tonic they need.

Their former manager John Toshack thinks his old side could make a big impression in Brazil: "From Real Madrid's point of view, we've always ... since it was announced, it's been taken quite seriously.

"Real Madrid were allowed not to play in the first round of the equivalent to the FA Cup last week that took part in Spain. They come in at the later stage.

British outrage

"But when you look at the teams who are in it, I think with all due respect if it wasn't a Manchester United/Real Madrid final, then we would all be rather surprised and disappointed," he added.

Real and Al Nassr are in a four-team group with Morocco's African champions, Raja Casablanca. Corinthians of Brazil complete the line-up, even though they have never won an international tournament.

The other group features Necaxa of Mexico, and the Australian side South Melbourne. But the two favourites to win the group are Vasco Da Gama of Brazil, and the current European champions, Manchester United.

Manchester United Manchester United: favourites to win
United's decision to play in the tournament at the expense of domestic competitions caused outrage in Britain.

Their manager Alex Ferguson admits they have been caught up in a power struggle between football's international governing bodies:

"What you're experiencing at the moment in world football is that Uefa and Fifa are obviously at loggerheads to say the least.

"Uefa have revamped the Champions' League and it's become quite an exciting competition. And now you've got Fifa come up with this new tournament.

"I think it's in complete opposition to the Champions' League," he added. "That's my opinion. Which means you'd have to think they will do their very best to make it a fantastic tournament."

Some of the teams are indeed taking the tournament very seriously. Vasco da Gama have bought in half a dozen new players. And with a first prize of $6m, who can blame them?

But it will take some spectacular games to convince the fans that the Club World Championship is anything other than a political football.

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  World Club Championship
World Clubs start for Real
24 Dec 99 |  World Club Championship
Brazil 2000: Football's new century begins
05 Jan 00 |  Football
Too hot for Man Utd
20 Dec 99 |  World Club Championship
Clubbing together on road to Brazil
20 Dec 99 |  World Club Championship
World Club Championship schedule

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