FIFA World Cup Japan
The 2016 FIFA Club World Cup begins Thursday in Japan, with seven teams from around the globe vying for the title, which will be handed out Dec. 17. ESPN FC's Nick Ames profiles the competing clubs and what to watch for over the 10-day tournament.
First game: vs. Jeonbuk Motors or Club America, Dec. 15
Who are they? Champions League holders, leaders of La Liga by six points and winners of this competition two years ago too. There are no prizes for guessing why Real are overwhelming favourites to win the Club World Cup this year, and their toughest opponent this time around might be their hectic schedule on domestic and European fronts.
Manager: Zinedine Zidane was a winner on the pitch, and the early evidence is that he is one off it as well. A Champions League title less than five months after his appointment as Real Madrid manager was not a bad start, and with La Liga very much in his sights this season, a Club World Cup would certainly burnish his early achievements. He has previous success on this stage too: He won this competition's predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup, as a player with Juventus in 1996 and Real in 2002.
Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo is the one the Japanese fans will want to see, and with Gareth Bale (who scored in the 2014 final) sidelined through injury for the foreseeable future, there will be high hopes that Real's talisman comes to the party and produces. Ronaldo has yet to score in this competition, a fact that will not have gone unnoticed by such a self-aware talent.
First game: vs. Jeonbuk Motors, Dec. 11
Who are they? Club America successfully defended their CONCAFAC Champions League title in April by defeating Tigres to win the trophy for the sixth time. They're back for another stab at the Club World Cup. This is their third participation; they finished fourth in 2006 and fifth last year and hope to at least match the former this time by qualifying for a semifinal clash against Real Madrid on Dec. 15.
Manager: Ricardo La Volpe took the America job in September some 20 years after another short-lived stint. The 64-year-old Argentinian is a colourful character who gained notoriety from his habit of smoking on the touchline. Perhaps the best-known of his numerous managerial feats came when he took Mexico to the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup.
Star player: Oribe Peralta is an experienced centre-forward who continues to score regularly for club and country. He has 23 goals for the Mexican senior team and represented El Tri at this year's Olympics, though he had to leave early after breaking his nose. Since joining America from Santos Laguna in 2014, the 32-year-old poacher has scored 50 times.The Korean side stunned Al-Ain to win the AFC Champions League. Can they have a deep run at the Club World Cup?
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
First game: vs. Club America, Dec. 11
Who are they? Korean side Jeonbuk won their second AFC Champions League in November by defeating Al-Ain 3-2 on aggregate to secure their place in Japan. It is a quick turnaround for the four-time K League champions, who beat Auckland 3-0 to finish fifth in their only previous Club World Cup appearance back in 2006. The two could conceivably play for the same "prize" again this time.
Manager: Choi Kang-hee is in his second spell managing Jeonbuk, with a two-year stint in charge of the national team in between. He won 40 caps for South Korea as a player, but it is as a manager that he has virtually swept the board of honours available. He first took over in 2005, when Jeonbuk were an average domestic side; now they are a continental force.
Star player: Brazilian winger Leonardo scored twice in the 2-1 first-leg win over Al-Ain and set his club on course for their latest famous victory, with his ninth and 10th goals of that run. The 30-year-old has been superb since moving from AEK Athens in 2012 after a seven-year spell with three different clubs in Greece. He boasts the quality to decide matches in Japan this month.