YOKOHAMA (Japan) - They have conquered their respective continents, proved their regional pre-eminence, and have now arrived in Japan with the aim of being declared world champions.
Yet while the primary focus in the Far East will be on who among AC Milan, Boca Juniors, Etoile Sahel, Pachuca, Sepahan and Urawa Reds can claim the FIFA Club World Cup, it will be arguably be just as interesting to see which individual player emerges as the star of this year's tournament. Last year, despite all the pre-tournament hype surrounding Ronaldinho, it was the Brazilian's less-vaunted Barcelona team-mate Deco who emerged as the competition's outstanding performer, although even the Portuguese playmaker's classy contribution wasn't enough to bring the trophy back to Catalonia.
This time around, many will naturally expect Japan 2007 to prove the perfect stage for Kaka - architect of Milan's UEFA Champions League triumph - to underline his FIFA World Player of the Year credentials in the wake of being awarded the Ballon d'Or. Yet just as Deco outshone Ronaldinho last year, it would surely be folly to discount other Rossoneri stars such Andrea Pirlo, a standout in the FIFA World Cup ™-winning Italy side, Clarence Seedorf or the ageless, unflappable Paolo Maldini.
The FIFA Club World Cup has also traditionally provided a platform for some of South America's most exciting players to announce their talents to the watching world, and just as the likes of Edilson, Rogerio Ceni and Iarley have excelled in previous editions, it could well be that this year's outstanding performer comes from within the ranks of Boca Juniors. Do any of you feel that Hugo Ibarra, Pablo Ledesma, Rodrigo Palacio or Martin Palermo could be the decisive player at Japan 2007?
And what about the chances of a dark horse emerging? After all, while Deco emerged with the adidas Golden Ball in 2006, for many the tournament's major revelation was Mohamed Aboutrika, a player whose skill and set piece mastery were absolutely crucial in taking Al Ahly all the way to a podium finish. Speak out if you think that the star of the current edition will come from one of the tournament outsiders.
External links: FIFA Club World Cup 2007 official site