Based on qualification procedures seen by The Associated Press, teams can qualify for FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup without having to win a regional competition – even at the expense of some champions.
The FIFA Council on Thursday is set to approve China as host of the inaugural edition of the 24-team club competition in 2021 and review the qualification procedures, people with knowledge of the decision making told AP.
They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss FIFA’s plans ahead of the meeting in Shanghai.
A document sent to council members seen by the AP shows the outcome of the initial talks between the FIFA administration and the six regional confederations to determine the criteria for securing one of the slots.
The revamped Club World Cup is due to be staged every four years, replacing the current annual format that features the six champions of continental competitions and the host nation’s domestic title winner.
But caps on the number of representatives from a single country in the new format raises the prospect of even winners of continental competitions missing out.
With eight slots, Europe will be the best represented continent at the Club World Cup even after rejecting four additional places, helping FIFA drive ticket sales and broadcast revenue.
All the Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021 are set to qualify – although that could be dependent on UEFA determining the maximum number of slots per country. Clubs from England and Spain have dominated those competitions in recent years.
Should a team enjoy multiple wins across the competitions, the free slot is due to go to the most recent Champions League runner-up.
Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2018 when Atletico Madrid triumphed in the Europa League. English clubs swept last season’s trophies, with Liverpool victorious in the Champions League and Chelsea in the second-tier competition.
While South America will get six slots, only the process for distributing four of them has been settled. They will go to the 2019 and 2020 winners of CONEMBOL’s two competitions: The Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.
The document shows no plan for determining the route to securing the remaining two berths or the limits on national representation.
The three Asian places will to go the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Asian Champions League and the runners-up will have a playoff for the third entry into the Club World Cup group stage.
Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal will play Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in this season’s final next month.
If the title is defended in 2020, the runners-up from both years will complete Asia’s FIFA lineup.
But Asia only wants a maximum of two teams from one country. So, if the winners and runners-up in 2019 and 2020 are all from the same country, the two losing Asian Champions League semifinalists in 2020 would contest a playoff for a route into the global tournament.
NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA
The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League finalists will qualify but a process for deciding the third slot was left hanging in the FIFA Council document.
Mexican teams have won all 11 titles since the regional competition was rebooted as the Champions League. Only three of the finals have not been an all-Mexican lineup.
But a cap of two teams per country from this region will exist at the Club World Cup.
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The simplest qualification will be from Africa, with the places going to the 2021 Champions League finalists and the winner of a playoff between the two semifinalists.
The plan is complicated by a cap on two teams per country.
Oceania is the only one of FIFA’s six confederations not guaranteed a place at the Club World Cup. To make one of the eight groups of three, the Oceania Champions League winner will face a playoff against the Chinese champions.
A previous FIFA plan seen by the AP in March proposed the Club World Cup running from June 17 through July 4 in 2021, taking the slot originally set aside for the Confederations Cup competition that is no longer due to be contested.
For some players from Africa and the CONCACAF region it could be a busy summer, with their regional national competitions proposed to start on July 9.
The final two editions of the seven-team annual Club World Cup are being staged in Qatar this December and in December 2020.