FIFA has big plans for the Club World Cup and this week approved plans for an expanded tournament starting in 2025, with Chelsea and Real Madrid given automatic spots for the competition regardless of results for the rest of this season, next and even the one after that.
Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, is determined to raise awareness of a vicious competition – and in the process further fill the association’s coffers.
In his opinion, the Club World Cup has too often been a parade in recent seasons. Each year’s Champions League champions go into the next winter’s seven-team tournament as overwhelming favourites, win the semi-finals, play in the finals and more often than not walk away with the trophy.
He wants to shake things up and from 2025 the tournament could see 32 clubs compete in a reformed competition that would take place, as with the European Championship and the World Cup, every four years.
But what would that tournament look like? And how would that work?
We’ve imagined what the 2022 Club World Cup would have looked like if these changes had been approved four years ago, instead of this week — so it could have been played last year without a national team tournament (for the men’s game anyway) in summer instead of February .
Chelsea and Real Madrid get places in the expanded FIFA Club World Cup
What was recently announced and who is included?
What was once a seven-team tournament has been expanded to include 32 clubs.
The new format was originally due to be introduced in 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans and led to FIFA continues its traditional short and sweet version.
But Infantino was defiant in his quest for more exposure — and more revenue — so now the wheels are fully in motion to turn his grandiose idea into reality.
on tuesday, at the FIFA Congress in Rwandait was announced that plans for a 32-team FIFA Club World Cup had been approved.
For the inaugural tournament in 2025, nine of those 32 seats are already spoken for. The following teams will join 23 others:
What are the rules for extended tournaments?
First, the 32 seats will be divided between the six confederations as follows:
- UEFA (Europe) – 12
- CONMEBOL (South America) – six
- AFC (Asia) – four
- CAF (Africa) – four
- CONCACAF (North America) – four
- OFC (Oceania) – one
- Guest nation — one
These 32 teams will be divided into four groups of eight, as has been the practice at international World Cups since 1998 — although that will be changed in 2026…
This version of the Club World Cup will only be played every four years — first in 2025 (the summer between the next European Championship and World Championship), then in 2029 and so on. However, that does not mean the curtains for the current seven-team one – it will still be played annually but will have to be given a new name. Perhaps the return of the Intercontinental Cup, which is what the FIFA Club World Cup was called from its inception in 1960 until its reintroduction in 2004.
The new-look Club World Cup will take its place on the calendar for the Confederations Cup – a now-defunct national team tournament that often served as a training event for bigger tournaments. Between 2005 and 2017, it was played every four years and was effectively dry for host countries that were about to host a World Cup.
Since every tournament in that 12-year period has been played in the same countries as the next World Cup, the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup is likely to be played in the United States, Canada and Mexico. For our purposes, that means there will be a host available to one CONCACAF club, giving that association five of the 32 teams.
That team will be joined by continental champions from around the world, as well as other teams that qualify due to their status.
In 2025, more consecutive places will be awarded because the pandemic has adversely affected the 2021-25 qualifying season.
Here’s how the seats will be allocated for the 2025 tournament.
- UEFA (12) — The four most recent UEFA Champions League winners and the eight most qualified teams in UEFA’s four-year run
- CONMEBOL (6) – The four most recent Copa Libertadores winners and the two highest-ranked teams in CONMEBOL’s four-year streak
- AFC (4) — The three most recent winners of the AFC Champions League and the most qualified team in the AFC’s four-year run
- CAF (4) — Winners of the CAF Champions League 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24, and the winners of the first African Super League 2023-24
- CONCACAF (4) – The four most recent winners of the CONCACAF Champions League
- OFC (1) — The best OFC Champions League winners of the OFC four-year series
- Host Nation (1) — Determined by the host nation’s association (probably CONCACAF)
Our (hypothetical) 2022 FIFA Club World Cup squad
Here is where the fun begins.
Using the above seating guidelines for a hypothetical summer 2022 tournament, here are the clubs that would have qualified, to give you an idea of how the new tournament will work.
- UEFA – Real Madrid (Spain), Chelsea (England), Bayern Munich (Germany), Liverpool (England), Manchester City (England), Paris Saint-Germain (France), Juventus (Italy), Atletico Madrid (Spain), Barcelona (Spain), Manchester United (England), Tottenham Hotspur (England), Porto (Portugal)
- CONMEBOL – Palmeiras (Brazil), Flamengo (Brazil), River Plate (Argentina), Boca Juniors (Argentina), Gremio (Brazil), Athletico Paranaense (Brazil)
- AFC — Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia), Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea), Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (South Korea), Persepolis (Iran)
- CAF – Wydad AC (Morocco), Al Ahly (Egypt), Esperance de Tunis (Tunisia), Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa)
- CONCACAF – Seattle Sounders (USA), Monterrey (Mexico), Tigres UANL (Mexico), Club America (Mexico)
- OFC – Auckland City (New Zealand)
- Host nation — New York City (based on CONCACAF hosting this Club World Cup — NYCFC were dominant MLS masters summer 2022)
These 32 teams would then have to be placed in four pots before the groups would be drawn.
As in most tournaments, the hosts would take first place in Pool 1, and for this exercise they would receive a “Champions Pool”, consisting of the four winners of the UEFA Champions League and the three winners of the Copa Libertadores.
We have used FiveThirtyEight’s respected Soccer index (SPI) ratings to determine how the rest of our imaginary pots are seeded. SPI ratings estimate a team’s overall strength between zero and 100, using difficulty-adjusted game results and underlying performance metrics to model a team’s offensive and defensive strengths.
- Pool 1: New York City, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Palmeiras, Flamengo, River Plate
- Pool 2: Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Porto, Juventus
- Pool 3: Boca Juniors, Gremio, Athletico Paranaense, Wydad AC, Al Ahly, Esperance de Tunis, Mamelodi Sundowns, Al-Hilal
- Pool 4: Ulsan Hyundai, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Persepolis, Seattle Sounders, Monterrey, Tigres UANL, Club America, Auckland City
One team would be drawn from each pool to make up the eight groups. A quick simulation compiled this as the groups:
- A group: New York City, Atletico Madrid, Al Ahly, Tigres UANL
- Group B: Liverpool, Porto, Gremio, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
- Group C: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Mamelodi Sundowns, Seattle Sounders
- D group: Palmeiras, Paris Saint-Germain, Al-Hilal, Monterrey
- E group: Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Wydad AC, Persepolis
- Group F: River Plate, Juventus, Boca Juniors, Auckland City
- Group G: Flamengo, Manchester City, Athletico Paranaense, Club America
- H group: Chelsea, Manchester United, Esperance de Tunis, Ulsan Hyundai
As you may have realized after looking at the groups, it’s hard to imagine the Club World Cup being anything other than a watered-down version of the UEFA Champions League.
Of the above groups, the only European club that appears to be in real danger of exiting the group stage by finishing in neither first nor second place is Juventus, as they battle it out with bitter rivals from Buenos Aires, Boca and River.
Infantino hopes a competition like this will raise the performance levels of the world game, given the dominance of European clubs and internationals.
But only time will tell if UEFA’s prestigious member clubs are really under siege from their rivals around the world or will take a little longer to show them that nothing has changed.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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