Amiable Club World Cup a far cry from its ugly predecessor

  • Football
  • Saturday, 19 Dec 2015

Barcelona's Luis Suarez (L) kicks the ball to score against Guangzhou Evergrande during their Club World Cup semi-final soccer match in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

YOKOHAMA (Reuters) - European champions Barcelona have been thronged by admiring fans and autograph hunters in Japan whenever they have appeared in public since their arrival this week for the Club World Cup.

Japanese fans formed long queues to buy official Barcelona merchandise on the way to the stadium for Thursday's semi-final against Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande where most of the crowd were rooting for the Catalans.

On the pitch, team captains took part in the so-called Handshake for Peace, described by FIFA as "a gesture of friendship and respect intended to inspire the world to unite in peace, solidarity and fair play."

It has all been very amiable -- and a complete contrast to its forerunner.

From 1960 to 1979, the Intercontinental Cup, an annual meeting of the champions of Europe and South America played over two legs, was a sorry history of intimidation, brawls, violence and skullduggery.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has already said it will feel odd to face River Plate, a team from his native Argentina in the final, but at least he will not be subjected to the same treatment that Nestin Combin went through in 1969.

An Argentine playing for Italian side AC Milan, Combin had a less than friendly reception when they went to Buenos Aires to face Estudiantes.

His nose and cheekbone were broken when he was elbowed in the face, and photographs showed him on the ground covered in blood.

At that point, he was arrested by Argentine police and accused of dodging his military service before he emigrated. He was eventually released after spending a night in jail.

Reports of the match allege that Milan players had hot coffee poured over them as they entered the field and that Estudiantes players kicked balls at them while they trained.

Television footage certainly show an extraordinary sequence of late tackles, punches, wild kicks and fights.

Estudiantes goalkeeer Alberto Poletti later spent 30 days in prison for his involvement and was banned from football for seven years.

In an interview in 2005, he told the Spanish newspaper As that the team were under pressure from the military government.

"They wanted us to win because there were rebellions by the workers, strikes and they wanted to put a lid on this... We were young, I was 23 years old...", he said, denying rumours that his team mates also stuck needles into their opponents.

Two years earlier, Argentina's Racing Club and Scotland's Celtic had been involved in what became known as the battle of Montevideo after their two-leg tie went to a playoff in the Uruguayan capital.

Amid yet more wild scenes, six players were sent off, one of whom refused to go and managed to play until the end amid the confusion.

Celtic defender Tommy Gemmell said in a documentary that he deliberately kneed a Racing player in the genitals behind the referee's back after the player concerned had "spat in the faces of all the Celtic forwards".

In 1972, Johan Cruyff scored a brilliant individual goal for Ajax away to Independiente, only to be put out of the game by a vicious tackle before the half hour.

The Dutch were so angry about the tackling that they threatened to abandon the match at halftime and, although they went to on to win 4-1 on aggregate, declined to take part the following year after retaining the European Cup.

A series of further withdrawals by Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in subsequent years led to a change of format, with a single one-off match in Tokyo from 1980 which turned out to be considerably calmer.

FIFA become involved in 2000 by organising a Club World Cup with the champions of other continents. Financial problems meant the competition was not held again until 2005 and since then it has taken place annually.

Yet, it had all begun so promisingly, with Pele leading Santos to an 8-4 aggregate win over Benfica in 1962.

His performance in the second leg in Lisbon, when he scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win, is regarded as one of the best of his extraordinary career.

Santos' display has never since been matched in either the Intercontinental Cup, or its successor.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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