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Club World Cup history, part 4: Zico makes his mark before Messi & Ronaldo become world champions

By Brian Oliver

Toyota saves the club world championship

When Olimpia became the first Paraguayan team to win the Copa Libertadores in 1979, it led to two days of partying in Asuncion, the nation’s capital city.

A few months later there was further cause for celebration when Olimpia won the Intercontinental Cup. Sadly, nobody outside of Paraguay really cared.

Nottingham Forest, the European champions, refused to play Olimpia. Malmo, the Swedish side they had beaten in the final, took their place. Although 35,000 turned out to watch Olimpia win their home leg, the crowd for the game in Sweden was 4,811.

When Forest retained the European Cup by beating Hamburg in Madrid in 1980, there was no reason for them to change their mind about playing in the next Intercontinental Cup – until Toyota stepped in.

The Japanese car manufacturer saved the competition from a slow death and eventually led the world club championship into a successful new era.

Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor before the 1979 European Cup final. Photo: Getty Images
“By the 1970s the event had gained such an infamous reputation that the European Cup holders often refused to have anything to do with it,” wrote the Guardian when reporting that Brian Clough’s team had accepted Toyota’s invitation to play.

Violence on the pitches of South America in the 1960s and the lack of financial guarantees for competing teams had become increasingly problematic. Toyota solved both issues by paying the finalists $150,000 plus shares of the ticket sales and TV rights, and deciding that the new Toyota Cup would no longer be a home-and-away contest but a one-off final in neutral Japan.

Neutral turf, Nacional and Forest

This was a radical move at a time when Asia played only a minor role on the world football stage. “The unlikely venue, and the emphasis on television coverage, does carry the echo of some recent world heavyweight fights,” said the Guardian.

So did the kick-off time: 3am in Europe. But unlike the boxing matches, and the brutal Argentina v Europe clashes of the late 1960s, there was no violence, just football.

Clough said he had “many, many reservations” when Forest signed up to play the match, which took time to arrange and did not take place until February 1981.

“It's the travelling I'm worried about, not the opposition,” he said. “I'm still not convinced we're doing the right thing. We'll only know that when we see what sort of results we achieve when we get back.”

Clough got it the wrong way around. Forest did fine on their return, but they could not master the opposition. Nacional, from Uruguay, beat Forest 1-0, watched by more than 60,000. Waldemar Victorino scored the only goal early in the game to win a car from the sponsors.

Zico’s Brazilian brilliance

South American clubs had always taken the Intercontinental games more seriously than the Europeans, and arguably still do. But the money, and the moving of the fixture to December, was enough to persuade European clubs that the competition was worthwhile. Not a single champion from either continent has missed a match since.

The switch to December meant there was another Toyota Cup in 1981 for that year’s champions – Liverpool and Flamengo. It featured one of the best team and individual performances in the competition’s history.

Liverpool, who had beaten Real Madrid in the European Cup, were outplayed from beginning to end by the Brazilians. Zico, who scored twice in a 3-0 win, was in sensational form. Some of his passing was breathtaking, and Liverpool were three goals down by half-time. They did not know what hit them.

Flamengo and Brazil midfielder Zico pictured in 1978. Photo: Getty Images
“I wanted to see how Zico would react to a tough challenge,” said Liverpool’s great midfielder, Graeme Souness. “But I couldn’t get close enough to him to find out.”

Other stars of Toyota Cup matches in the 1980s and 1990s were Michel Platini of Juventus in 1985, Porto’s Algerian superstar Rabah Madjer in 1987, Paolo Maldini with the AC Milan team that won European and world titles twice in a row in 1989 and 1990, Vladimir Jugovic, one of Serbia’s all-time greats, with Red Star Belgrade in 1991 and Juventus in 1996, and Rai for Sao Paulo in 1992.

FIFA backing for a new millennium

There was another significant change in 2000 when FIFA, 40 years after the intercontinental series had started, finally gave their backing to a club competition for the first time.

There were two competitions that year. The new FIFA Club World Championship – opened up beyond Europe and South America - was played in early January in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The Toyota Cup, in Tokyo in December, was won by Real Madrid.

Real were in the earlier competition, too, spuriously invited as FIFA’s ‘club of the century’. Manchester United, the reigning European champions, had to withdraw from the FA Cup to take part, causing great controversy in England.

It was a bit of a mess. United, the favourites, were well beaten by a Vasco da Gama side featuring Romario and Edmundo. Real scored the first goal of the tournament, through Nicolas Anelka, but they too were eliminated.

Ryan Giggs and Manchester United were beaten at the Maracana by Vasco da Gama. Photo: Getty Images
The final was played between two Brazilian sides. Corinthians, who had the man of the match in Edilson, beat Vasco on penalties after a goalless draw. Two teams from the same country playing each other for a world title did not seem right, and when the tournament was next played a new format ensured it could not happen again. Only the six continental champions were invited.

When FIFA’s marketing arm, ISL, suffered a financial collapse, the club world championship was put on hold for four years. The Toyota Cup continued, and there was a private battle between UEFA, backers of the Toyota contest, and FIFA, who wanted to take control. It was resolved when FIFA and Toyota teamed up in 2005 to present the version of the world club championship that exists now.

Finally, a new trophy

A new trophy was introduced, with the Lipton Trophy, the Intercontinental Cup, the Toyota Cup and the FIFA 2000 trophy all consigned to history. Prize money is now nearly $20m (€16m) and there have been other hosts besides Japan - the United Arab Emirates and Morocco.

African teams have twice contested the final, though they have yet to win it. TP Mazembe, from DR Congo, lost to Inter in 2010, and Raja Casablanca were beaten by Bayern Munich last year.

Fittingly, the two biggest names in world football have played their part in the FIFA-Toyota tournaments. Cristiano Ronaldo starred for Manchester United, setting up the winning goal for Wayne Rooney when they defeated LDU Quito 1-0 in 2008.

Cristiano Ronaldo wins the Club World Cup with Manchester United in 2008. Photo: Getty Images
A year later Lionel Messi was player of the tournament and scorer of the extra-time winner when Barcelona came from behind to beat Alejandro Sabella’s Estudiantes 2-1 in a memorable game.

Ronaldo will have a chance to shine again this year when Real Madrid seek their first victory in the newest format of the Club World Cup.

They are expected to play San Lorenzo, of Argentina, in the final. Argentina has the best record of any nation in all the various formats of the global clubs’ contest but, surely, Real’s time is now. Move over, West Auckland...