Europe’s best takes on South America’s finest in Friday’s FIFA Club World Cup final with Manchester City and Fluminese both reaching the decider in Saudi Arabia in what is both teams maiden CWC campaign (Fri, 6.00, TNT Sports).
Pep Guardiola will be seeking to lift this trophy for the fourth time as a manager having won it twice with Barcelona and ten years ago with Bayern Munich while his midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who scored in Tuesday’s semi-final win against Japan’s Urawa Reds, is seeking an astonishing fifth Club World title.
Copa Libertadores champions Fluminense also having players with winning pedigree in this competition with the evergreen Brazilian left-back Marcelo (35) tasting success in this tournament four-times as a Real Madrid player while Felipe Melo (40) has plenty of big game experience from his time at clubs such as Juventus, Galatasary, Inter Milan and with the Brazilian national team.
Manchester City will bid to become the fourth English club to be crowned World Champions after Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea with Premier League clubs winning two of the last four finals while the trophy hasn’t exited European hands since Fluminense’s compatriots Corinthians defeated Chelsea 1-0 in the 2012 decider.
Should Manchester City win on Friday, England will move level with Brazil with four wins in the competition with Spain clear with eight wins, five for last year’s winners Real Madrid and three for Barcelona.
Also, should City triumph they will become the first English team ever to hold the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup trophies at the same time.
City cruised past the AFC Champions League winners Urawa 3-0 in the semi-final, although it did take the treble winners right up until the dying moments of their first-half to open to scoring with the Japanese side scoring an unfortunate own goal after some heroic defensive blocks and last-gasp challenges in the opening forty-five minutes.
The second-half was much more straightforward for City who recorded 25 attempts at goal and denied their opponents a single effort on target with only two shots faced.
Fluminense, meanwhile, were involved in an end-to-end humdinger of a game against Egypt’s Al Ahly with both teams sharing a total of 31 goal attempts and six each on target.
Both goalkeepers were at the top of their game meaning it took a 71st minute penalty to open the scoring after Marcelo was taken down after some trickery in the Al Ahly box while Fluminense stamped their final ticket with a second goal in the final minute.
As entertaining as the game was, Pep Guardiola will have been licking his lips at the oceans of space on offer in the middle of the park, something his City players will be aiming to exploit in Friday’s final.
However, the English champions will have to do without three superstars in Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Jeremy Doku who have fallen foul of a bizarre FIFA rule. Having not been named in City’s semi-final matchday squad, those players are not eligible for Friday’s final.
Guardiola started the game against Urawa without a recognised number nine with the Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernando Silva and Matheus Nunes all being asked to take turns in the role of “false nine”. Julian Alvarez appeared from the bench and must surely be under consideration for a start against his fellow South Americans given Haaland’s absence.
Having gone eight consecutive matches without a clean sheet, Guardiola is unlikely to make many if any changes to his team after the shutout against Urawa.
As for Fluminense, they used all five of their subs during Monday’s 2-0 win against Al Ahly with 7 of their starting XI over the age of 30. A second game in the space of four days will demand a lot of this team especially given Manchester City fielded just two players over 30 (Ederson & Walker) in their semi-final.
There’s no doubt Fluminense will be a step up in terms of quality compared to the team Manchester City overcame earlier this week but this does look a step too far for the boys from Brazil.
VERDICT: Manchester City (4/15).
BEST BET: Man City & BTTS (2/1) – While Manchester City restricted Urawa to just two shots at goal last time, two sloppy back passes almost presented the Japanese side with what would have been early Christmas gifts.
Fluminense have scored at least once in six of their last seven matches and given City’s defensive frailties prior to the trip to Saudi Arabia, they may get something to cheer about here even if it’s not the trophy.