As promised last night, here’s the second half of our look at the competitors in this year’s FIFA World Club Cup, starting with the representatives from the host nation, Japan.
Host Nation Representatives: Gamba Osaka (Japan)
Who Are They, Then? Gamba Osaka are one of just six clubs never to have been relegated from the J-League since it began in 1992. They’re not one of Japan’s best-supported clubs (Osaka is a “baseball town”), and they’ve only won the J-League once, in 2005. They did, however, win the AFC Champions League this year, meaning that they qualify as the Asian champions.
How Did They Get Here? The Asian Football Confederation Champions League started in March with Gamba requiring a goal four minutes into injury time from the Brazilian Lucas to salvage a 1-1 draw against the Thai side Chonburi. They went on to win four and draw two of their six group matches to finish top of their group. In the quarter-finals, they beat the Syrian side Al Karamah to set up an all-Japanese semi-final against Urawa Red Diamonds. They drew the first leg 1-1 at home before causing a minor surprise by winning the second leg in Saitama by three goals to one. The final turned out to be a little one-sided, and a 5-0 aggregate win against Adelaide United to become the second successive Japanese winners of the AFC Champions League.
Have I Heard Of Any Of Them? The Gamba Osaka team is largely home-grown, so no, unless you’re an afficianado of Japanese football. Lucas Severino, a Brazilian striker, cost the French club Stade Rennais £14m when they signed him from Atletico Paranaense in 2000, but he proved to be a costly failure there, and ended up resurrecting his career in Japan with FC Tokyo before moving to Gamba Osaka this year. Defender Yasuhito End? has won seventy-three caps playing for Japan, and was in their team at the 2006 World Cup.
What’s Their Form Like? The J-League was amazingly tight in 2008, with many teams still in with a chance of winning the championship with just a handful of matches left to play. Kashima Antlers eventually pulled clear to win the championship (their second in a row and the sixth that they have won since the title started) but Gamba faded to eight place in the league. Home advantage should see them get through the early stages, but it’s less likely that they will have enough to get past Manchester United, who would be their semi-final opposition.
Asian Football Confederation Representatives: Adelaide United (Australia)
Who Are They, Then? Founded in 2003 to take the place of the defunct Adelaide City, Adelaide United are here because Gamba Osaka beat them convincingly in the AFC Champions League final this year. They have been A-League league winners once, in 2006, but lost in the semi-finals of the play-off competition that then decides the champions.
How Did They Get Here? FIFA World Club Cup rules were changed last year to ensure that a Japanese club would take part in the competition, and Gamba Osaka’s win in the AFC Champions League meant that Adelaide United qualified as the Asian representatives despite losing the final of that competition on aggregate. They qualified from their group with four wins and two draws from six matches, and caused something of a surprise by beating the Japanese champions Kashima Antlers in the quarter-finals, before beating Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan in the semi-final.
Have I Heard Of Any Of Them? Midfielder Paul Reid played almost a hundred matches in League One for Brighton & Hove Albion before returning to Australia earlier this year. Striker Paul Agostino played for Bristol City before moving to 1860 Munich, where he made 187 appearances for the German club. Yound defender Scott Jamieson spent two years as a squad player for Bolton Wanderers without playing for them before returning to Australia.
What’s Their Form Like? They had a disappointing 2008 season in the A-League, finishing in sixth place and missing out on the end of season play-offs, though they are top of this season’s table at the moment. They don’t look strong enough to make the latter stages of the competition, though they demonstrated their quality in beating Kashima in the AFC Champions League last season.
Oceania Representatives: Waitakere United (New Zealand)
Who Are They, Then? Waitakere United are the current champions of New Zealand, and are still the only ever winners of the newly-formed OFC Champions League, which they have won two years in a row. A largely sem-professional club, they start the tournament as rank outsiders and will do outstandingly well just to get past Adelaide United in the opening play-off match.
How Did They Get Here? The OFC Champions League opened for business in 2007, and Waitakere have won it both times since it started. They knocked out league rivals Auckland City in the group stages, edging through to the final by one point after a 1-0 win in Auckland. The final started badly for them, with a 3-1 defeat away to Kossa FC of the Solomon Islands, before they turned it around with a 5-0 win in the second leg.
Have I Heard Of Any Of Them? New Zealand is a popular rest home for aging English footballers, and Waitakere United feature the midfielder Neil Emblen, who was a stalwart of the Championship in the late 1990s. He played for Millwall and Wolverhampton Wanderers before a £2m move to Crystal Palace that didn’t work out. He returned to Molineux, where he made a further 100 appearances before moving to Norwich City. He then moved to New Zealand, where he played for the now defunct New Zealand Knights.
What’s Their Form Like? They finished as the New Zealand Football Championship winners in 2008, and have started this season with two wins and a draw, and sit in second place in the table with a game in hand over the current leaders, Youngheart Manawatu.
Finally, a quick word about the structure of the tournament. Keen to avoid confrontation with the biggest clubs in the UEFA confederation, the tournament has been structured to cause as little damage as possible to Manchester United’s domestic and European schedules. Waitakere and Adelaide United play the opening match, a play-off match in Tokyo today for the right to play a quarter-final, and the winners of this match will play Manchester United in the semi-finals in Yokohama next Thursday. Al-Ahly play Pachuca in Tokyo on Saturday, and the winners of this match will play LDU Quito on Tuesday. Manchester United’s semi-final and the final will be shown live in the UK on Channel Five.