Club World Cup preview - Barcelona favorites to win 5th trophy in 2015
The Catalan powerhouse could become the first team in the competition’s history to win the tournament three times, with Argentine side River Plate expected to be their closest competitors.
A total of seven teams enter the competition, with the six continental champions joined by J-League winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
The Japanese side take on OFC Champions League victors Auckland City in a play-off later today, with the winners progressing to the quarter-final stage.
Other sides to join the European and South American champions include Congolese outfit TP Mazembe, Mexican team Club America and Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande.
River and Barcelona will enter the fray at the semi-final stage, with the pair likely to meet in the competition final in Yokohama on December 20.
TP Mazembe play the winner of the playoff between Auckland and Hiroshima, and the winner of that match will go on to face River Plate on December 16.
On the other end, Club America and Guangzhou Evergrande face off in the quarter-final before the winner faces Barcelona on December 17.
No team outside Europe or South America have won the Club World Cup in its 11-year history, with European clubs lifting the trophy in seven of the last eight years.
Corinthians’ victory over Chelsea in 2012 is the only recent exception, with the Brazilians the only two-time champions along with Barcelona.
Real Madrid scooped the crown last year, while Barcelona won the competition in both 2009 and 2011 under Pep Guardiola, beating Estudiantes and Santos respectively in the final.
If the Camp Nou side are to prevail as expected, it would be their fifth competition triumph this year after scooping the La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League and European Super Cup crowns in 2015.
The only blot on Barcelona’s copybook this season is unexpectedly losing the Spanish Super Cup to Athletic Bilbao back in August.
As such, coach Luis Enrique will not be able to follow in Guardiola’s footsteps by winning all six trophies in a calendar year, as the now-Bayern Munich boss did in 2009.
Barcelona take on Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday before jetting out to Japan, where a football-mad public will await the arrival of global superstars such as Lionel Messi and Neymar.
While the competition is not as respected in Europe as domestic tournaments or the Champions League, the Blaugrana will be keen to record success in Japan.
Although Guardiola’s Barcelona side will go down as one of the best in recent history, Enrique’s slick team can go some way to emulating their predecessors with victory in the 2015 Club World Cup.