When Corinthians Were The Best Team In The World

So your favourite club has just won the Champions League and now, at the end of the calendar year, they have to jet off to play teams from other Federations in the Club World Cup in Japan or the Middle East. You sit there and think, what’s the point in that – European clubs are far better than other clubs from around the globe?

The first Club World Cup that was held in Brazil showed the rest of the world that there are talented footballing teams outside of Europe – especially in South America. That competition showed fans that the continent doesn’t only have talented young players that have so famously been exported to richer teams in Europe, but the talented teams that are capable of holding their own on the world stage.

The inaugural Club World Cup was played in Brazil between the party city of Rio de Janeiro and the metropolis of São Paulo at the start of the new millennium, well after the global crisis of Y2K passed without a blip. Eight teams took part in the tournament – hosts Corinthians, Al-Nassr, Necaxa, Raja Casablanca, Real Madrid, South Melbourne, Brazilian club Vasco De Gama and controversially Manchester United.

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After winning the 1998–99 UEFA Champions League, the English club qualified for the Club World Cup but it came at a cost. The club decided to pull out of that season’s FA Cup which enabled them to travel to Brazil – a decision that was criticised by many in the football world.

A decade later, Sir Alex Ferguson himself mentioned that he regretted the decision but claimed the club’s hands were tied as the FA and British Government felt that playing in the tournament would aid their bid to host the 2006 World Cup, which ultimately went to rivals Germany.

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The football kicked off in January 2000, with the first game being won by Real Madrid after a 3-1 win over Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Nassr. The Saudis put up a good fight against their star-studded opponents, but eventually came unstuck in the second half when Real legend Raúl and Sávio scored twice in eight minutes to put the tie out of reach of the Asian champions.

The Group phase was the first time when Corinthians showed that they were a good footballing team. The Brazilians, led by Oswaldo de Oliveira had a record of two wins and one draw which resulted in them collecting seven points and winning the group over Real Madrid on goal difference. Their records were exactly the same, however Corinthians pipped the Spaniards thanks to an 81st minute goal from Colombian Freddy Rincón which ensured they had a goal difference of +1 over their rivals.

The only points they dropped were against a Real Madrid team that contained the likes of Raúl, Nicolas Anelka, and Steve MacManaman, when the match was tied 2­-2 in an entertaining game in front of 55,000 fans at São Paulo’s Estádio do Morumbi. The leading scorer through the group matches was Edílson with two goals, after scoring a brace in that historic tie with Real Madrid on January 7th.

Manchester United had a torrid time of things in Group B, which they were expected to win easily. Perhaps it was the climate or jet-lag, but the European champions performances were completely underwhelming and resulted in them exiting the tournament early.

The first game saw them draw 1-1 with Mexican club Necaxa through a late Dwight Yorke equaliser. The second was a shock 3-1 defeat to Copa Libertadores champions Vasco da Gama with effervescent Romário bagging two goals. United’s only triumph came in a routine 2-0 win over Australian side South Melbourne who lost all three of their games at the tournament.

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By winning the group, Corinthians headed into the final against Vasco de Gama on January 14th in Rio’s iconic Maracanã. Corinthians came up against a Vasco De Gama side that had a front line made up of Romário and Edmundo, with the former in fine form after scoring nearly a goal per game (41 goals in 46 matches) that year. He was the Brazilian League’s top scorer, and for this tournament, received the Golden Boot and Bronze Ball.

The match was decided on penalties, after going the full allotted time including extra time without a goal. Corinthians were in the driving seat after Gilberto missed the third spot-kick for Vasco De Gama with Marcelinho having the chance to seal the victory with the fifth penalty.

The usually reliable Marcelinho, who scored a hat-full of goals in his Corinthians career missed his penalty to give Vasco a lifeline, but the match was wrapped up 4-3 on penalties when the talented but troubled Edmundo missed the target after sending Dida the wrong way.

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Corinthians were champions of the world for the first time and it stayed that way until São Paulo took their crown in 2005 – the year the next edition of the tournament was played.

So when you hear Euro-snobs, or people who like to deride the Club World Cup as a nuisance with the competition not being worth the time and effort for top European clubs, remember this bit of football history. Corinthians were world champions.  Brazilian football is actually very good, and many of your clubs are constantly pillaging the Brazilian league for the most recent crop of young, talented players their scouts have discovered.

The Club World Cup serves a purpose and is an excellent spectacle for football fans to enjoy at the end of the year. Lets hope that the tournament stays on the footballing calendar and goes from strength to strength in the future.

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