Three takeaways from Club World Cup

By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

Real Madrid's winning streak is now 22 games following its 2-0 win over San Lorenzo of Argentina to win the 2014 Club World Cup, FIFA's continental club championship, before more than 38,000 fans in Marrakesh, Morocco. Here are three takeaways from the tournament.

1. This is one of the greatest Real Madrid teams of all time.

The question must be asked: How could Real Madrid have ever lost three of its first four games to start the 2014-15 season? Since then, it has run off 22 straight wins: 12 in La Liga, six in the UEFA Champions League, two in the Copa del Rey and now two in the Club World Cup.

Real Madrid coasted to its first FIFA club title with easy wins over Cruz Azul (4-0) in the semifinals and San Lorenzo in the final. Goals from Sergio Ramos, the tournament Gold Ball winner, and Gareth Bale on either side of the break were enough to beat San Lorenzo in the final. For all the talk of Bale being sold to Manchester United, the Welshman hasn't had a shabby year. Real Madrid won three titles in 2014 -- Champions League, Club World Cup and Copa del Rey -- and Bale scored in each final.

With the addition of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez in midfield, Real Madrid has undergone a serious upgrade from the team that won the Champions League with a 4-1 overtime win over Atletico Madrid. You only need to look at some of the players who didn't get in the final against San Lorenzo -- Keylor Navas, Sami Khedira, Javier Hernandez and the injured Luka Modric -- to get an idea of how deep Real Madrid is.

2. Kudos to Auckland City, embarrassment for Cruz Azul.

The surprise of the Club World Cup were the part-timers from Auckland City, which defeated Concacaf champion Cruz Azul on penalty kicks in the third-place game. The Oceania champion was making its fourth straight appearance in the seven-team tournament, but it had been one and done the previous three years. (The loser of the opening game is the only team that doesn't get to stick around for a placement game.)

Auckland City started players from six different countries, including Mexican Fabrizio Tavano, to cap off a tournament in which it beat the host entrant, Moghreb Tetouan, on penalty kicks, and African champion ES Setif from Algeria and narrowly lost to San Lorenzo in overtime. The third-place finish assured a big day for Auckland City -- more than $2 million in bonus money -- that it will split 50-50 with its eight rivals in New Zealand's ASB Premiership.

The victory was viewed as revenge for New Zealand's 9-3 aggregate loss to Mexico in the playoffs for the 2014 World Cup. Needless to say, Saturday's defeat was not well received in Mexico.  "We are embarrassed," Cruz Azul captain Gerardo Torrado told Mexican television after the game. "This is a disaster. It was very important to take third place, so to end up in fourth is very bad."

3. And what does it all mean for MLS?

Winning the Concacaf Champions League -- and qualifying for the Club World Cup -- is a stated priority of MLS, but Cruz Azul's disappointing showing underscores the potential pitfalls of participating in the tournament.

Los Cementeros had been off for three weeks and were coming off a disappointing Torneo Apertura in Mexico, where they didn't make the playoffs. The 2013-14 Mexican league season wasn't much better as they exited in the quarterfinals in both championships.

If an MLS club were to be the Concacaf representative, it would need to use to the summer transfer window to gear up on two fronts -- a final push for the MLS playoffs and the challenge ahead at the Club World Cup. An early exit from the playoffs or no playoffs at all would leave the MLS rep very rusty, like Cruz Azul. A run to MLS Cup would mean the MLS entrant would have to turn around and fly off to the Club World Cup -- it's likely back in Japan the next two years -- for its first game just days later. A good problem it would gladly take.

Couldn't MLS simply buy its way into the tournament by agreeing to host? Hosting the tournament in mid-December would create all sorts of weather issues. While a match involving Real Madrid or the South American champion or a Mexican team might draw, how does Western Sydney Wanderers-ES Setif on a Wednesday night in December sound?

Morocco ended its two-year run as hosts with weather issues of its own -- its sports minister was fired over drainage problems at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat -- but the five dates -- three featured doubleheaders -- averaged more 28,000 fans a game, quite an accomplishment that a U.S.-hosted tournament would be hard pressed to match.

TRIVIA. The Guinness Book of World Records acknowledged the world record for the longest club winning streak in all competitions at 24 games, set by Coritiba of Brazil in 2011, but the record is 26 straight wins set by the great Ajax team of 1971-72 with 19 wins in the Eredivisie, four in the European Cup and three in the Dutch Cup from October 1971 to April 1972. For the season, Ajax finished with 42 wins, five ties and one loss (3-2 to Go Ahead Eagles in April 1972).

Dec. 20 in Marrakesh
Real Madrid 2 San Lorenzo 0. Goals: Sergio Ramos 37, Bale 51.
Real Madrid -- Casillas, Carvajal (Arbeloa, 73), Pepe, Sergio Ramos (Varane, 89), Marcelo (Fabio Coentrao, 44), Cristiano Ronaldo, Kroos, Rodriguez, Bale, Isco, Benzema.
San Lorenzo -- Torrico, Yepes (Cetto, 61), Mas, Kannemann, Mercier, Buffarini, Kalinski, Barrientos, Ortigoza, Rodriguez (Matos, 68), Veron (Romagnoli, 57).
Att.: 38,345

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4 comments about "Three takeaways from Club World Cup".
  1. Gus Keri, December 21, 2014 at 9:37 a.m.

    Your idea of the US hosting the Club World Cup is MLS's only chance of qualifying to this tournament with the parity system in the league and the indifference shown by MLS clubs toward CCL.

  2. Christopher Tallmadge, December 21, 2014 at 9:50 a.m.

    The primary "take away" from this tournament is the same every year. It is a waste of time and scheduling mess. Only two of the teams have any hope of winning. Forget it and return to the old Europe vs. South America game. FIFA will continue to foist this thing on everyone if it earns so much as a penny though.

  3. beautiful game, December 21, 2014 at 11:04 a.m.

    FIFA is in a revenue craze and totally out of control. With all the scheduled international games, no wonder the World Cup has become a tournament of fatigued players.

  4. Zoe Willet, December 21, 2014 at 11:28 p.m.

    I don't agree about eh 2 teams- look how well the amateurs did this year. Hooray for them! As for the U.S. hosting, if it were in TX, FL or Southern CA, how would that be any worse than anywhere else?

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