Daily Express Chief Sports Writer Neil Squires has his say on the Club World Cup as Liverpool prepare to head for Qatar.
Football’s Club World Cup should have a snappier title – Club Foot perhaps. The tournament no-one is talking about has certainly endured a limp enough start. The opening game between Al Sadd Sports Club and Hienghene Sports, held in a sparsely-populated Qatari stadium on Wednesday evening, disappeared completely behind the shadow of the Champions League.
It had all the sense of occasion of a dog walk in the December drizzle.
For those of you who missed it Al Sadd, who are included only because Qatar are hosting the event, needed extra time to dispose of the part-timers from New Caledonia whose captain manages a boarding school on the Pacific Island.
The Club World Cup looked and sounded nothing like an elite global football tournament. The players – non-league-style – could be heard calling for the ball inside the echoing 15,000-capacity Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium.
Al Sadd take on Mexican champions Monterrey in the same mausoleum in the second round after Esperance of Tunisia have locked horns with Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia.
This, remember, is the tournament Liverpool have concertinaed their Premier League fixture list and put a weakened team out in next week’s Carabao Cup quarterfinal for. A £4m first prize has its pull, as does the boast of best club team in the world, but there is a lot of nose holding to be done before Liverpool, as all but one of the last 12 European champions have done, win the thing.
No wonder then that FIFA, after 16 stuttering and stumbling editions, are desperate to upgrade this sad rag of an event to something much grander.
The announcement by president Gianni Infantino earlier this year that the current seven-team tournament is to expand to a 24-team competition from 2021 was made with some fanfare.
The intention is to add more depth and status by adding more top European and South American clubs.
There are spaces allocated for eight European teams and six from South America. The problem is that the European Clubs Association have, so far, declared their intention to boycott it and without Europe’s clubs the tournament is a sham.
They cite scheduling issues.
The proposed dates, for a tournament which will move to a four-yearly cycle, avoid the World Cup and the Euros.
However they clash with those of the Africa Cup of Nations.
That would mean Liverpool potentially going into it without Egypt’s Mo Salah and Senegal’s Sadio Mane.
Naby Keita might also have business to attend to with Guinea and Joel Matip with hosts Cameroon.
If Manchester City were involved, would have to do without Riyad Mahrez so too Napoli with defensive rock Kalidou Koulibaly and Ajax with Andre Onana and Hakim Ziyech.
Not every club would be affected and there may be those who may be tempted by the windfall FIFA will offer.
But let’s not go there.
Let’s shelve the whole idea and allow the Club World Cup to die off quietly in the desert.
Football has enough historic showpiece tournaments without having to engineer an artificial new one.
The world’s champion club side is, by virtue of Europe’s pull on talent, the winner of the Champions League. A Club World Cup isn’t needed to tell you that.
Liverpool should be able to freely parade themselves for a season as the world’s best without having to decamp to Qatar next week.
World cricket is holding its breath and crossing its fingers as the most significant Test match for a decade unfolds in Rawalpindi.
The return of Test cricket to Pakistan a decade on from the attack on the Sri Lanka team bus which left six policemen and two civilians dead is momentous.
The security operation may be more like that for a visiting Head of State than a cricket match but so far so good.
A radio report that play had been interrupted on day one by nothing more alarming than rain was reassuringly mundane.
If the Sri Lanka series passes off without incident, England should sign off their proposed tour in two years’ time and return to Pakistan too.
There is only one Tiger Woods except in Melbourne this week when there are two – one as a player in the United States’ Presidents Cup team and one as its captain.
The Ryder Cup has not had a playing captain since Arnold Palmer took on both jobs in Atlanta 56 years ago but how about Woods doing the double when the contest next returns to Europe in 2022?
Europe’s dominance on home soil is such that the Americans have not won an away match since 1993 so they may as well try something different.
It would be trickier at a Ryder Cup which is compressed into three days rather than four but if Woods – who will be 46 by Rome – restricts his playing appearances it would not be impossible.
Ronnie O’Sullivan’s eccentric switch to fist-bumping opponents rather than shaking hands and opening door handles with tissues is a one-man declaration of germ warfare. Watch out for the bridging glove next. On both hands.