Yesterday Solari summed up the competition Madrid will be vying for later on today perfectly, when they face Kashima - the same team that pushed them all the way two years ago. We look down on this cup from the top of the ivory tower that is European football. Our understanding is that once the Champions League is won, this competition is easy pickings, an obligation. Yet in South America – and other continents – it’s a different story; the opposite in fact. It’s the most sought-after trophy. Solari went on to explain that, even as a dedicated student, he would ‘skive’ to watch the Intercontinental Cup, the previous version of today’s competition.
The old format
As is common knowledge: it started as a duel, home and away, between the champions of South America and Europe. The ferocity with which the South American teams played in the late sixties and early seventies almost put the whole thing in jeopardy. Some European teams refused to play and were either runners-up (Atlético, who also won it) or didn’t even participate. During the worst of these times Tokyo emerged, which, in 1980, through Toyota, offered to host the competition on neutral ground, thereby saving the then Intercontinental Cup. Over time this formula has been used, where the champions of all confederations and the local side take part.
Solari and Mourinho
Madrid, like River, go straight into the semi-finals, a privilege that acknowledges the historical superiority of Europe and South America over other regions on the planet. On the horizon lurks a new four-year formula and time will tell whether it gains traction. But in the meantime, we have this format and a competition which for Madrid is the closest at hand, in this withered year with no Cristiano and Lopetegui making way for Solari, a year which currently smacks of mediocrity – some good results and some bad against easy-on-paper teams. Solari needs to shine in this competition because Mourinho is now on the loose, which is a threat because Florentino is yet to fully satiate that particular managerial whim.