Real Madrid favorite to add Club World Cup title to honors
ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 08, 2016 11:19 AM
(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Winning the Club World Cup could launch Real Madrid to a unique quadruple title haul.
Madrid has a shot at becoming the first team to win the Champions League, Spanish league, Spain's Copa del Rey, and the Club World Cup in the same season. It leads the Spanish league, is through to the knockout stage of the Champions League, and is alive in the Copa del Rey.
The tournament kicks off on Thursday in Yokohama with newly crowned J-League champion Kashima Antlers facing Oceania champion Auckland City for a chance to advance to the second round.
Madrid hasn't lost since April at Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals of last season's Champions League. They return to the competition with 13 of the players who lifted the Club World Cup title in 2014, when they beat San Lorenzo in the final.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and Keylor Navas are all expected to participate, and the biggest absence will be Gareth Bale, who recently underwent ankle surgery.
European teams have been the most successful in the tournament, with eight titles, although it is not considered as high on the priority list for European clubs as it is for the South American sides.
Madrid's main rival for the title will be Copa Libertadores champion Atletico Nacional, which will travel to Japan with a strong team but is dealing with the trauma of the recent airplane crash that caused the cancellation of the Copa Sudamericana final.
Atletico was to play Brazilian club Chapecoense in the final but the plane carrying the Brazilian team to the game crashed, killing almost all on board.
The Colombian club features goalkeeper Franco Armani, who did not concede a single goal during the group stage of the Copa Libertadores, as well as captain Alexis Henriquez and striker Miguel Borja.
Atletico opens its campaign in the semifinals on Dec. 14 in Osaka. Real Madrid's first match is the following day in Yokohama.
In addition to Kashima and Auckland City, Mexican side Club America, South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors and African champions Mamelodi Sundowns are playing.
Club America will be making its third appearance, and features 16 players with previous experience.
Paul Aguilar is recovering from a cruciate ligament tear in his right knee, but Moises Munoz and Oribe Peralta will be available.
Recently crowned Asian Champions League winner Jeonbuk Motors will pin their hopes on veteran striker Lee Dong-gook and the Brazilian duo of Leonardo and Edu.
Kashima and Auckland City, which owes its place to a sixth straight Oceania Champions League triumph, will vie for a chance to play Mamelodi Sundowns in Osaka on Sunday.