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Pep Guardiola respected the FIFA Club World Cup when he was boss of Barcelona so the chance of his Bayern Munchen team not taking this year’s edition of the tournament seriously is next to nil, hence the favourite side’s short odds.
The 10th FIFA Club World Cup will take place in Morocco and Bayern Munchen, as one of the top two seeds, is through to the semi-finals without kicking a ball. Bayern Munchen will meet either Al Ahly or Guangzhou Evergrande in the last four, while Auckland City, Raja Casablanca, Monterrey and South American champion Atletico Mineiro are in the other half of the unconventional seven-team competition draw.
The FIFA Club World Cup has come at a good time for Bayern Munchen. Guardiola’s side is four points clear at the top of the German Bundesliga with one round to go before the winter break and, with all due respect to Leverkusen, it is the 10 points that separates Bayern Munchen and Dortmund that will please Pep most of all. Bayern Munchen is through to the UEFA Champions League last 16 and it has not lost since dropping the German Super Cup 2-4 to Dortmund before the serious stuff began. Bayern Munchen has not missed a beat since Guardiola succeeded Jupp Heynckes and the Spaniard is on a mission to build upon the managerial legacy that he built, first with Barcelona B and then with Barcelona.
Only European or South American teams have won the FIFA Club World Cup so, unless there is an almighty shock in Morocco, the tournament’s 10th winner is going to be either Bayern Munchen or Atletico Mineiro. So, for punters who are not keen about backing Bayern Munchen at its best odds of 1.22 with Sky Bet, Atletico Mineiro is the only side that is worth investigating. So here is the skinny on it.
Atletico Mineiro is making its FIFA Club World Cup debut after winning the Copa Libertadores for the first time, beating Olimpia in a penalty competition as the two-legged final finished 2-2 after extra time in the second leg. One could say that Atletico Mineiro was extremely lucky to win the Copa Libertadores because it needed spot kicks to oust Newell’s Old Boys in the semi-finals and, before that, it required the away goals rule to get past Tijuana in the quarter-finals. The fact is that Atletico Mineiro did not beat Olimpia, Newell’s Old Boys or Tijuana fair and square.
Also, whereas Bayern Munchen is running away with the German Bundesliga and threatening to go back to back in the UEFA Champions League, Atletico Mineiro has had a disappointing season in Brazilian Serie A. Atletico Mineiro finished the 38-round competition ranked eighth of the 20 top-flight teams, winning 15 matches, drawing 12 and losing 11. Away from home, which is a good barometer of a side’s ability, Atletico Mineiro has won only of its last 17 games, with its most recent numbers being three draws and five losses.
The days of the South American teams taking the FIFA Club World Cup more seriously than their European counterparts are either over or the gap in quality between them has become too great for even greater enthusiasm to bridge. The reality is that it is a bit of both of those things. There is more kudos in winning the FIFA Club World Cup now than there was when it began in 2000 and, because money makes the world go round, the European sides are picking up the best talent in South America earlier than they did previously.
Bayern Munchen is a hot favourite to win the FIFA Club World Cup but one cannot argue with bookmakers who are offering odds that equate to around an 82 per cent chance of the European champion taking out the tournament. If anything, Bayern Munchen may represent value at its short odds.
Finally, it is worth noting that Guangzhou Evergrande is under the leadership of Marcello Lippi, the Italian boss who was in charge of Juventus when it won the UEFA Champions League in 1996 and Italy when it won the FIFA World Cup in 2006. Guangzhou Evergrande is China’s top team but the standard of the Chinese Super League is akin to that of England’s second-tier division, the Championship.