The Soccer Source verdict: yes it is, but only from the semifinals onward. The seven team tournament kicks off Friday in Tokyo and concludes nine days later in Yokohama. In the U.S., all games will be telecast live on Fox Soccer World. The participants:
- Pachuca, Mexico (CONCACAF Champions’ Cup winner)
- Boca Juniors, Argentina (CONMEBOL Copa Toyota Libertadores champions)
- Waitakere United, New Zealand (OFC Champions League winners)
- AC Milan, Italy (UEFA Champions League winners)
- Étoile Sportive du Sahel, Tunisia (CAF Champions League)
- Urawa Red Diamonds, Japan (AFC Champions League winners)
- Sepahan, Iran (AFC Champs league runner-up, made it in because Urawa would have qualified automatically as hosts)
Pachuca will play Étoile Sportive in the other quarterfinal on Sunday. That game is marginally more interesting, especially from a North American/CONCACAF perspective. Unfortunately, Pachuca has been very mediocre since winning the CONCACAF Champions' Cup in the springtime (going nowhere in the Copa Sudamericana and finishing the Apertura season with a .500 record and first round playoff exit). In fact, most of these teams--at least the ones that I follow--are playing well below the levels that got them here in the first place. Which is just one of numerous ways this tournament falls short as a proper gauge of the best club in the world. Milan are struggling in Serie A and have yet to beat an Italian team at home this season. Boca had a decent Apertura campaign but like Pachuca went nowhere in the Copa Sudamericana. None of these teams have made it into the top 10 of Soccer Source's Top 25 Club Ranking since its inception Oct. 2.
Still, it's a start. The tournament has been set up for Milan and Boca to face each other in the final. (Both have been seeded into the semifinals, where Milan will face the Sepahan-Waitakere-Urawa winner and Boca the Pachuca-Etoile winner. If you can't follow that it's all laid out very nicely on FIFA's Web site). If nothing else, I hope the games debunk the myth that European teams are soooooooo much better than clubs from other confederations (notably CONMEBOL and CONCACAF). So far, this tournament has done exactly that: in its two other incarnations it was won by South American teams. But if you're a Eurosnob and scared of losing your (false) sense of superiority, here is one last item that might just pull you back: FIFA will use the tournament to test a new micro-chipped 'smart ball' that should end any arguments about whether a ball crossed the goal-line. If successful, the technology could be put to use at the 2010 World Cup.