AC Milan thrashed Boca Juniors 4-2 in the Club World Cup final in Toyko on Sunday. This sets a new record of four intercontinental crowns for AC Milan. "We have obtained everything we should as a team," said Kaka after the Italians added the Club World Cup to the European Champions League and Super Cup titles they have already won this year.
Both the Serie-A side and Argentina's most crowned club won the Intercontinental Cup three times before the traditional Europe-South America contest was merged into this acclaimed world club championship in 2005.
The Club World Cup features champions from Europe (Champions League), South America (Libertadores Cup), Oceania (OFC Club Championship), Asia (Asian Champions League), Africa (CAF Champions League) and Central and North America (CONCACAF Champions Cup) who will compete along with the Japanese J-League champions. There was little chance of upsets - the European and North American champions are expected to clear the hurdles and meet in the finals, this year was no exception.
Milan have an axe to grind with Boca after being on the losing end of penalties in the 2003 Intercontinenal final. Kaka, who won the prestigious French Ballon d’Or award for the best player of the year is Milan's trump card and attacking inspiration. However, he will not be using any memories of the 2003 defeat as motivation: “I don’t like the word ‘revenge.’ In 2003 Boca won and it ended there, closed story.”
Things have indeed come full circle for Milan in a fruitful season. They defeated Liverpool in the Champions League finals which was sweet retribution as the Reds went one up over them in penalties after coming back from 3-0 down in a shocking reversal two years ago in the same competition. In the Club World Cup, the opportunity to seek payback against Boca presents itself and Milan took it with aplomb.
Milan's victory also helped restore European pride. Brazilian teams have dominated the competition since it was merged from its predecessor (Intercontinental Cup). Sao Paulo beat Liverpool in 2005 and Internacional edged out Barcelona 1-0 last year.
In the past, most European teams regard the Club World Cup as merely a bonus and did not accord enough respect to the competition - clinching the Champions League is already the pinnacle for them (in financial terms too), hence the uninspiring performances. The fact that the Cup is right smack in the middle of their already packed schedules also make it an undesirable distraction.
By bringing the trophy back to Europe, there is hopefully, a shift of emphasis and European teams may feel a greater impetus to win this event, more for honor and prestige than monetary incentives. The media can also help to elevate the Club World Cup by providing greater coverage and infusing glamor to spark the fans' interest.
Prolific striker Filippo Inzaghi scored twice, either side of goals from defender Alessandro Nesta and Kaka, as Milan added to their 1969, 1989 and 1990 titles. Boca's Rodrigo Palacio was on target in the first half and Pablo Ledesma's shot bounced off a defender into the net five minutes from time to keep the scoreline respectable for the South American champions.
This victory, added to their seven Champions League/European Cup trophies, two Cup Winners' Cups and five European Super Cups, took Milan's total of international titles to 18 - one more than their defeated Argentine foes. Next in the list are Real Madrid and Argentina's Independiente on 15.
An interesting sidenote of this year's Club World Cup is the testing of a revolutionary football embedded with a microchip, designed to end goal-scoring disputes by alerting the referee when it has crossed the line.
The technology was first tested at the 2005 Under-17 World Cup and may be applied at the next World Cup in 2010. Using a magnetic field to provide real-time feedback to a central computer, the exact location of the ball on the field is tracked and the data transmitted to the referee.
Responses from players and coaches were mixed over the quality the ball. AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said the ball was satisfactory. "It's good. We did not notice any different particulars with regards to other Adidas balls. It has a good consistency and the trajectories are respected."
Midfielder Clarence Seedorf found it harder to control though. He said: "For various technical reasons we still have to get used to certain trajectories, but generally we are able to kick it well."
The Argentinians, after losing, are not too impressed with the new ball. Boca Juniors coach Miguel Angel Russo echoed the comments of his defender, Hugo Ibarra. He said: "Ibarra said that as he is not used to it, its trajectory changes. If you use a new ball in such an important tournament, players have to put in a lot of effort to get used to it."
FIFA did not offer any immediate assessment but said the test findings would be reviewed by an international board in March.
If this ball is going to be used in the World Cup 2010 and it offers match officials a firmer grip of the game, I think it is a positive step forward. Since everybody has to get used to the ball, nobody has a clear advantage, so any petty complaint of the ball affecting the team's performance is merely an excuse.
End of the day, if a player is good... he is good, regardless of what trajectories the ball takes when it is hit. Goalkeepers will have a tougher job determining the path of the ball and it makes for a more interesting game with better scoring opportunities.
The microchip is is just an example of beneficial technology being phased into a game which is still largely dependent on human judgment. The impact of "imperfect" decisions cannot be overemphasized, some human errors can take on mammoth proportions and affect the fate of a nation, so reducing them will ensure fair results.
More can be done to help the match official out in his work, they are still susceptible to sleazy tactics (playacting, off the ball fouls, etc.) but changes, if any, cannot be implemented immediately into the game as the errors are what makes football so interesting (and frustrating). If all the referees are infallible, then we wouldn't be able to see the players and fans protest as well as the antics of managers like Ferguson and Wenger at the bye-line.
That would surely take something precious away from the game. What do you guys think of technologies helping out the match officials during a match?