The FIFA Club World Cup is an international men’s association football competition organised by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body.
The competition was first contested in 2000 as the FIFA Club World Championship.
It was not held from 2001 to 2004 due to a combination of factors, most importantly the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner International Sport and Leisure (ISL), but since 2005 it 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 recognised (in 2017) by FIFA as club world champions.
In 2005, the Intercontinental Cup was merged with the FIFA Club World Championship, and in 2006, the tournament was renamed 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 quarterfinals.
The quarterfinal winners go on to face the European and South American champions, who enter at the semifinal stage, for a place in the final.
Real Madrid hold the record for most victories, winning the competition four times. Corinthians’ inaugural victory remains the best result from a host nation’s national league champions. Teams from Spain have won the tournament seven times, the most for any nation.
The first club tournament to be billed as the Football World Championship was held in 1887, in which FA Cup winners Aston Villa beat Scottish Cup winners Hibernian, the winners of the only national competitions at the time.
The first time when the champions of two European leagues met was in what was nicknamed the 1895 World Championship, when English champions Sunderland beat Scottish champions Heart of Midlothian 5–3.
Ironically, the Sunderland lineup in the 1895 World Championship consisted entirely of Scottish players – Scottish players who moved to England to play professionally in those days were known as the Scotch Professors.
The first attempt at creating a global club football tournament, according to FIFA, was in 1909, 21 years before the first FIFA World Cup.
The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy was held in Italy in 1909 and 1911 and contested by English, Italian, German and Swiss clubs. English amateur team West Auckland won on both occasions.
The idea that FIFA should organise international club competitions dates from the beginning of the 1950s. In 1951, FIFA President Jules Rimet was asked about FIFA’s involvement in Copa Rio, the competition created by the Brazilian FA with a view to being a Club World Cup (a “club version” of the FIFA World Cup), and Rimet stated that it was not under FIFA’s jurisdiction since it was organised and sponsored by the Brazilian FA.
FIFA board officials Stanley Rous and Ottorino Barassi participated personally, albeit not as FIFA assignees, in the organisation of Copa Rio in 1951.
Rous’ role was the negotiations with European clubs, whereas Barassi did the same and also helped form the framework of the competition. The Italian press regarded the competition as an “impressive project” that “was greeted so enthusiastically by FIFA officials Stanley Rous and Jules Rimet to the extent of almost giving it an official FIFA stamp.”
Due to the difficulty, the Brazilian FA found in bringing European clubs to the competition, the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper suggested that there should be FIFA involvement in the programming of international club competitions saying that, “ideally, international tournaments, here or abroad, should be played with a schedule set by FIFA”.
Still, in the 1950s, the Pequeña Copa del Mundo (Spanish for Small World Cup) was a tournament held in Venezuela between 1952 and 1957, with some other club tournaments held in Caracas from 1958 onwards also often referred to by the name of the original 1952-1957 tournament.
It was usually played by four participants, half from Europe and half from South America.
The framework of the 2000 FIFA Club World Championship was laid years in advance.
According to Sepp Blatter, the idea of the tournament was presented to the Executive Committee in December 1993 in Las Vegas, United States by Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan’s president.
Since every confederation had, by then, a stable, continental championship, FIFA felt it was prudent and relevant to have a Club World Championship tournament.
Initially, there were nine candidates to host the competition: China, Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay, Saudi Arabia, Tahiti, Turkey, the United States and Uruguay; of the nine, only Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay confirmed their interest to FIFA.
On 3 September 1997, FIFA selected Brazil to host the competition, which was initially scheduled to take place in 1999.
Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton, a pillar of England’s victorious campaign in the 1966 FIFA World Cup, stated that the Club World Championship provided “a fantastic chance of becoming the first genuine world champions.”
The competition gave away US$28 million in prize money and its TV rights, worth US$40 million, were sold to 15 broadcasters across five continents.
The final draw of the first Club World Championship was done on 19 October 1999 at the Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.
The inaugural competition was planned to be contested in 1999 by the continental club winners of 1998, the Intercontinental Cup winners and the host nation’s national club champions, but it was postponed by one year.
When it was rescheduled, the competition had eight new participants from the continental champions of 1999: Brazilian clubs Corinthians and Vasco da Gama, English side Manchester United, Mexican club Necaxa, Moroccan club Raja Casablanca, Spanish side Real Madrid, Saudi club Al-Nassr, and Australian club South Melbourne.
The first goal of the competition was scored by Real Madrid’s Nicolas Anelka against Al-Nassr; Real Madrid went on to win the match 3–1. The final was an all-Brazilian affair, as well as the only one that 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 would have featured 12 clubs. The draw was performed at A Coruña on 6 March 2001.
However, it was cancelled on 18th May, due to a combination of factors, most importantly the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner International Sport and Leisure. The participants of the cancelled edition received US$750,000 each in compensation; the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) also received US$1 million from FIFA.
Another attempt to stage the competition in 2003, in which 17 countries were looking to be the host nation, also failed to happen. FIFA agreed with UEFA, CONMEBOL and Toyota to merge the Intercontinental Cup and Club World Championship into one event.
The final Intercontinental Cup, played by representatives clubs of most developed continents in the football world, was in 2004, with a relaunched Club World Championship held in Japan in December 2005.
All the winning teams of the Intercontinental Cup were regarded by worldwide mass media and football’s community as de facto “world champions” until 2017 when FIFA officially (de jure) recognised all of them as official club world champions in equal status to the FIFA Club World Cup winners.
Play-off tournaments (2005–2020)
The 2005 version was shorter than the previous World Championship, reducing the problem of scheduling the tournament around the different club seasons across each continent.
It contained just the six reigning continental champions, with the CONMEBOL and UEFA representatives receiving byes to the semi-finals. A new trophy was introduced replacing the Intercontinental trophy, the Toyota trophy and the trophy of 2000.
The draw for the 2005 edition of the competition took place in Tokyo on 30 July 2005 at The Westin Tokyo.
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.
In the semi-finals, 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 crushed 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 in 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 semi-final opponents, Japan’s Gamba Osaka, 5–3. They saw off Ecuadorian club LDU Quito 1–0 to become world champions in 2008.
United Arab Emirates applied, with success, for the right to host the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 and 2010. Ruing from their defeat three years earlier, Barcelona dethroned World and European champions Manchester United in the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final to qualify for the 2009 Club World Cup.
Barcelona beat Mexican club Atlante in the semi-finals 3–1 and met Estudiantes in the final. After a very close encounter that 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. TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo 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.
The FIFA Club World Cup returned to Japan for the 2011 and 2012 edition. In 2011, Barcelona comfortably won their semi-final match 4–0 against Qatari club Al Sadd.
In the final, Barcelona would repeat their performance against Santos. This is, to date, the largest winning margin in the final of the competition. Messi also became the first player to score in two different Club World Cup finals.
The 2012 edition saw Europe’s dominance come to an end as Corinthians, boasting over 30,000 travelling fans which was dubbed the “Invasão da Fiel”, travelled 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.
2013 and 2014 had the Club World Cup moving to Morocco. The first edition saw a Cinderella run of host team Raja Casablanca, who had to start in the play-off round and became the second African team to reach the final, after defeating Brazil’s Atlético Mineiro in the semi-final.
Like Mazembe, Raja also lost to the European champion, this time a 2–0 defeat to Bayern Munich. 2014 again had a decision between South America and Europe, and Real Madrid beat San Lorenzo 2–0.
The 2015 and 2016 editions once again saw Japan as hosts for the 7th and 8th time respectively in the 12th and 13th editions of the FIFA Club World Cup. The 2015 edition saw a final between River Plate and FC Barcelona.
FC Barcelona lifted their third FIFA Club World Cup, with Suarez scoring two goals and Lionel Messi scoring one goal in the Final. One notable thing that occurred in the 2015 tournament was that Sanfrecce Hiroshima made it to third place, the farthest ever achieved by a Japanese club.
This record would not last though, as the 2016 edition saw J1 League winners Kashima Antlers making it to the Final (outscoring rivals 7–1), against Real Madrid.
A Gaku Shibasaki inspired Kashima attempted to win their first FIFA Club World Cup (a feat never done by any club outside of Europe and South America) but were denied by Real Madrid, who won 4–2 in extra time, thanks to a hat-trick by Cristiano Ronaldo.
The UAE returned to host the event in 2017 and 2018. 2017 involved the likes of Real Madrid becoming the first team in Club World Cup history to return to the tournament to defend their title.
Real Madrid became the first team to successfully defend their title after defeating Grêmio in the Final, all while eliminating Al Jazira in the Semi-Finals.
Al-Ain was the first Emirati team to reach the Club World Cup final, as well as the second Asian team to reach the final in the 2018 edition. Real Madrid defeated Al-Ain 4–1 in the final, to win their fourth title in the competition and to become the first team ever to win it three years in a row and four times in total in the tournament’s history.
Thus, Real Madrid extended their international titles to seven after winning the 2018 edition (counting their three Intercontinental Cup titles and four Club World Cup titles).
On June 3, 2019, FIFA selected Qatar as the host of both the 2019 and 2020 events. Gonzalo Belloso, the Deputy Secretary-General and Development Director of CONMEBOL, had said earlier that the 2019 and 2020 editions will both be held in Japan. The 2019 edition saw Liverpool defeat Flamengo to win the competition for the first time.
In late 2016, FIFA President Gianni Infantino suggested an expansion of the Club World Cup to 32 teams beginning in 2019 and the reschedule to June to be more balanced and more attractive to broadcasters and sponsors.
In late 2017, FIFA discussed proposals to expand the competition to 24 teams and have it be played every four years by 2021, replacing the FIFA Confederations Cup.
The new tournament, planned to start in 2021, would be held every four years instead of annually, would feature 24 teams and 31 matches. It would include all UEFA Champions League winners, UEFA Champions League runners-up, UEFA Europa League winners and Copa Libertadores winners from the four seasons up to and including the year of the event, with the remainder qualifying from the other four confederations.
Along with a new UEFA Nations League competition, revenues of $25 billion would be expected during the period from 2021 to 2033.
Format and rules
As of 2012, most teams qualify to the FIFA Club World Cup by winning their continental competitions, be it the AFC Champions League, CAF Champions League, CONCACAF Champions League, Copa Libertadores, OFC Champions League or UEFA Champions League. Aside from these, the host nation’s national league champions qualify as well.
The maiden edition of this competition was separated into two rounds. The eight participants were split into two groups of four teams.
The winner of each group met in the final while the runners-up played for third place.
The competition changed its format during the 2005 relaunch into a single-elimination tournament in which teams play each other in one-off matches, with extra time and penalty shoot-outs used to decide the winner if necessary.
It featured six clubs competing over a two-week period.
There were three stages: the quarter-final round, the semi-final round and the final. The quarter-final stage pitted the Oceanian Champions League winners, the African Champions League winners, the Asian Champions League winners and the North American Champions League winners against each other.
Afterwards, the winners of those games would go on to the semi-finals to play the European Champions League winners and South America’s Copa Libertadores winners. The victors of each semi-final would play go on to play in the final.
With the introduction of the current format, which now has a fifth-place match and a place for the host nation’s national league champions, the format slightly changed.
There are now four stages: the play-off round, the quarter-final round, the semi-final round and the final. The first stage pits the host nation’s national league champions against the Oceanian Champions League winners.
The winner of that stage would go on the quarter-finals to join the African Champions League winners, the AFC Champions League winners and the CONCACAF Champions League winners.
The winners of those games would go on to the semi-finals to play the UEFA Champions League winners and South America’s Copa Libertadores winners. The winners of each semi-final play each other in the final.