It probably won’t count for much come the end of the season, but Manchester United became the World Club Champions this morning – the first English club to win the FIFA World Club Cup. This year’s World Club Cup has been hamstrung, as ever, by the imbalance of competition. This was further emphasised by LDU de Quito’s surprise in the Copa Libertadores earlier this year. In previous years, the saving grace for the tournament came in the final, when you could be guaranteed a match between a top European club and a name that most people at home would have at least heard of.
There was no such joy for FIFA this year. The fact that LDU can come from nowhere is a sign of the immense strength in depth of South American football but, for FIFA, the lack of a familiar South American name only added to the sense that this competition is an irrelevance. It isn’t an irrelevance, of course (though you can be pretty damn sure that most have Manchester United supporters would have said that it was had they lost this morning), and the likelihood is that this is a competition that will grow and grow in strength over the next few years. Expect to see more club sides being invited to enter and it posibly being shunted to the summer to capitalise on that European market that is dormant for a couple of months every two years or so.
The patronising honking of those that feel this competition to be a waste of time was almost silenced inside four minutes. Luis Balanos’ free kick caught the United defence absolutely cold and Alejandro Manso, three yards out and with only Edwin Van Der Saar to beat, somehow managed to prod the ball wide rather than into the goal. United looked stangely out of sorts in the first half, often finding themselves reduced to lumping the ball over the top in the hope of finding Wayne Rooney in space. It worked the once, after nine minutes, and Rooney’s shot stung the palms of the LDU goalkeeper Cevallos but, broadly speaking, United seemed to lack the creative spark that lit up the Yokohama International Stadium on Thursday. Carlos Tevez forced another decent save from Cevallos and, just before half-time, Park Ji-Sung found himself with only the goalkeeper and eight yards out but made a hash of his lob and sent the ball over the crossbar. An understated first half finished 0-0.
Three minutes into the second half came a moment of impetuousness that could have been very expensive for Manchester United. Nemanja Vidic went in for a tackle with Claudio Bieler and, in the process of getting himself up, seemed to elbow his opponent in the face. It was right in front of the referee, who had little choice but to show Vidic the red card. United, however, continued to dominate. Cristiano Ronaldo forced a stretching (and somewhat unorthodox) save from Cevallos whilst, at the other end, Van Der Saar pulling off a fine diving save from long range shot, but the game seemed t be running out of life when the only goal of the match came. Cristiano Ronaldo touched the ball wide to Wayne Rooney, who cracked the ball across the goal and into the corner of the net.
Manchester United, then, are the champions of the world and probably deservedly so. They were sparkling for five minutes on Thursday night and ran the game today, although LDU de Quito played very well and were a credit to CONMEBOL in pushing them as hard as they did. There can be little doubt that, over the next decade or so, this competition will change again and hopefully will find the status that a world championship deserves. For Manchester United, a long journey home followed by the Christmas and New Year programme awaits.
You can see the goals from today’s final here.