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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 19:21 GMT
Clubbing together on road to Brazil

Rio's massive Maracana will host the final
Football's place as the world's game is confirmed by its staging of the first major international competition of the new millennium.

Eight teams from six tournaments gather in Brazil, aware that the World Club Championships is a controversial event.

Group A: Man Utd, Nexaca, Vasco da Gama, South Melbourne
Group B: Real Madrid, Al-Nassr, Corinthians, Raja Casablanca
But they must also realise that the watching world is expecting entertainment in return for all the pre-event discussion.

The format is simple enough - two groups of four teams each compete for the right to play in the final.

Indeed, the path to glory at Brazil's famous Maracana Stadium on 14 January is a much shorter one than any side took to be here.

Group A: Rio

Manchester Utd (England, Europe)
European Champions League winners 1999

World Club Championship
The whole football world is aware of United's dramatic victory over Bayern Munich in the European Champions League final in May.

A goal down as the 90 minutes ended, the Manchester club scored twice in one of the most dramatic finished to any football match.

They arrive in Brazil with one world title in the bag from the Intercontinental Cup in Brazil, but having controversially pulled out of the FA Cup at home.

Nexaca (Mexico, north/central America)Concacaf Champions Cup winners 1999

Came from behind to beat Costa Rican opponents Alajuela 2-1 in the Concacaf Champions Cup final in Las Vegas, the continental tournament for the north and central America.

The two finalists had both defeated clubs from the US's Major League Soccer championship in the semis.

Vasco da Gama (South America, Brazil)Copa Libertadores winners 1998

The Rio club were champions of South America in 1998, when they won the famous trophy - the Copa Libertadores.

But the path to starring on their own stage in Rio began as far ago as 1997, with the Brazilian league title handing them their Libertadores passport.

Hot-tempered striker Edmundo has even had time to spend 18 months in Italy with Fiorentina before returning to the club where he made his name.

South Melbourne (Oceania, Australia)

Champions of world football's smallest continental confederation, their path took them through a series of knockout games.

First were the Australian domestic play-offs and the 3-1 grand final win over Sydney United.

Then came the Oceania Club Championship in Fiji where wins over sides from the Solomon Islands, American Samoa and Tahiti were sealed before a 5-1 win over host club Nadi.

Group B: Sao Paulo

Real Madrid (Spain, world champions)
1998 Intercontinental Cup winners

The lucrative television area of Europe is ensured two entrants because of Real Madrid's status as former world club champions.

For years the champions of South America have faced Europe's title-holders in a one-off game in December in Japan for the Toyota Cup, which has since been won by Manchester United.

Real beat Rio club Vasco da Gama 2-1 to win the 1998 trophy, having defeated Juventus 1-0 in the European Champions League final the previous May.

Al-Nassr (Saudi Arabia, Asia)
Asian Super Cup winners 1998

Started on the road to Brazil back in 1997 when they won the Asian Cup Winners Cup, before beating continental champions Pohang Steelers of South Korea on away goals in the 1998 Asian Super Cup final.

A 1-1 draw away from home followed by a goalless second leg in the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh.

Corinthians (Brazil)
Brazilian champions, 1998

Reigning champions of Brazil, who are also the hosts of this group in Sao Paolo.

Corinthians qualified as the hosts' extra representative, and won the 1998 domestic title after a relegation battle the previous season.

Raja Casablanca (Morocca, Africa)
African Champions League winners 1999

The final World Club Championship qualifiers were confirmed less than a month before the tournament when Raja beat Esperance of Tunisia to win the African Champions League.

The Morroccans won 4-3 on penalties, following two goalless legs of the final and the sending off of their captain in the second leg.

While they also won the African championship in 1997 on penalties, their 1998 domestic league title was won by the considerably wider margin of 14 points.

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See also:

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Links to more World Club Championships stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more World Club Championships stories