FIFA Club World Cup: A Second Look

The problem I fear with approaching any non-European competition as an admitted a priori “avid PL supporter”, as  does Mr. BD Condell in a prior piece posted on this site, is that one tends to be blinded by one’s predispositions and miss what virtues there may be in such competitions.  

While concurring in Soccerlens’ correspondent  Condell’s disparaging view of many elements of  this tournament, I also fear his disdain teeters over at some points into outright scorn, rather unfairly given the quality of some of the actual play; and that this imbalanced and perhaps prejudicial treatment calls for a bit of redressing.

The Eurocentric prejudice against less familiar manifestations of world football I’m here addressing holds true especially in the case of Latin American competitions, and tends also to extend into a general disregard for the contributions of Latin American clubs in international competitions in general. 

Granted Latin American football doesn’t much resemble European football–it boasts less raw power, and probably also less pace than one might expect from the EPL, if not also from La Liga, and perhaps even from Serie A  (though has anyone ever sincerely accused Serie A of being the least bit pacy?)–it also offers relative virtues of its own: more touches, more finesse, more grace, and, in this writer’s modest view, more true fighting spirit.

The present Japan world club tournament is no exception.  The sometimes farcical nature of the set-up and proceedings may well have caused others along with Mr. Condell to see this as a shambolic clown show to be laughed at and ignored in anticipation of the ultimate appearance of the semi-divine grandees from Manchester, who have pretty much been accorded the championship before even venturing out of the hotel mass-autograph-sessions to bother to  touch stud to pitch.

But in the quarter-finals we did–as is unfortunately not reported by the possibly slightly-biased Mr. Condell–see one wonderful match.  Al Ahly, the skilled and brave Egyptian club here representing Africa, looked indomitable for most of the night against Mexican CONCACAF representative Pachuca; but in the second half Pachuca came roaring back, tied the match at 2-2 late-on with a score by Argentine forward Christian “Chaco” Gimenez, working an adroit 1-2 with his fellow Argentine Bruno Marioni, then scored twice again in extra time–the ultimate winner put in by another of Pachuca’s experienced and talented Argentine contingent, Damian “El Chilendrino” Alvarez, with an insurance goal coming on Gimenez’s second of the night.  Marvelous and utterly exciting game, in short, whichever side you may have been rooting for.

Then, after enduring the intervening descent into admittedly dull matches involving the pretty ordinary Oceanian and Asian representatives–never more than straw opponents anyway, vying in futility for the anticipated dubious honour of being knocked out by  imperious United in the semis–came the semifinal between Pachuca and Copa Libertadores winner Liga de Quito of Ecuador, representing the South American continent.

You may not have heard of the latter club unless you’re enough of a football fan to have looked in on their recent victorious Libertadores campaign, crowned by a fantastic conquest away to Fluminense in the caldron of Rio de Janeiro; but if you were lucky enough to see any of that, you’ll know that Liga represents no straw opponent for anybody.  This is a wicked-good football club.

As I’d expected unreason got the better of me and I ended up, after three nights up working on the Mexico gran final piece posted elsewhere on this site (Tears of Joy: Mexican Apertura 2008 Final), not sleeping again, opting instead for tuning in at 2.30 a.m. to the  Pachuca/Liga semi-final in Japan.

And the game I thought was bad/good, with the good winning out on balance. The weather conditions and crowd apathy: very bad. Reminded me of 2002 Copa Mundial and why I hate watching games played in Far East: unless local teams are involved (in which case we observe mass robotic beehive-culture fanatic brainless crowd support), nobody in the stadium  understands or cares what’s happening save the few loyal traveling supporters. Thus here, a few dozen Pachuca fans made more noise than the “neutral crowd.”

But the football they saw, despite awful conditions, had some real quality I thought. The ultimate winners from Ecuador sported in their starting eleven the nucleus of the same wonderful Liga club we aficionados of Latin football all know from the Libertadores—the night’s two scorers Bieler and Bolanos,  plus Manso, Riesgo, Cevallos, all the key players from last year save the excellent,  now-departed winger Guerron. Once behind 2-0, in a nasty cold rain, Pachuca had an impossibly slippery hill to climb.

But this was the same veteran club that  had fought back so courageously to defeat Al Ahly a few nights earlier, and you could see they believed in the possibility of doing the same here—si se puede! Were I a Pachuca loyalist, I’d have been disappointed on the night yet nonetheless would have felt no shame in holding my head high afterward, given the battling performance of my defeated club.  And were I an Argentine (instead of merely a foolish old norteamericano) I’d be entirely proud of the fighting spirit shown, pretty much for pride’s sake, by the venerable Pachuca front line of Gimenez-Alvarez-Marioni… luchando, peleando till the end. Pachuca must have outshot Liga by 20-8 or so, dominated possession by something like an 80/20 ratio, made many great late chances, just could not manage to llegar–get there in the end– but left all their hearts on the pitch nonetheless.

So: I took that good  (excellent competitive football of  a pleasantly high quality) from the otherwise bad (the rest of the tournament, i.e. games not involving the three clubs from Africa and Latin America).   Mixed views on the tournament so far, then–but please let’s not entirely dismiss it, as Mr. Condell has done.

You can probably tell from all this that in my heart I had really wished for a Pachuca/United final. And as it is, I expect LDU to give United a run for their money. Anyone else feel likewise?

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