In case you hadn’t heard, Liverpool won their sixth European Championship last season. In doing so, the Reds earned the right to compete for the rare prize that has thus far escaped their grasp: the FIFA Club World Cup.
However, this “right” could have been considered more of a “burden” many years. Indeed, for Liverpool in the 70’s, it clearly was. The Reds declined to play to play in the Intercontinental Cup (the de facto predecessor to the Club World Cup) in 1977 and 1978. In 1977, European Cup runners-up Borussia Mönchengladbach took Liverpool’s place (losing 5-2 to Boca Juniors on aggregate), and in 1978, the competition was canceled altogether. Until 1980, it was a home-and-away two-legged final (often spaced months apart) with the Copa Libertadores (South American) Champions. It certainly puts an away trip to Norwich into perspective.
In 1980, it was moved to Japan for a one-off final. South American teams dominated throughout the 80s, and especially enjoyed inflicting pain on any English sides that came their way, including Liverpool. The Reds fell 3-0 to Brazilian side Flamengo in 1981, lost again, this time 1-0 to Argentina’s Independiente in 1984. In fact, English sides didn’t score a single goal between them, with Nottingham Forest losing 1-0 to Nacional and Aston Villa losing 2-0 to Peñarol in 1980 and 1982, respectively.
All told, South American sides won 7 of the first 10 matches played in Japan, and 12 of the 25 matches played there under the old format.
In 2000, the format expanded to include winners of all the confederations. Or rather it started and then took a 4 year siesta. But in 2005 it was back, and back in Japan, just in time to welcome Liverpool.
Liverpool came up against Brazilian side São Paulo. The Reds were absolutely dominant in the game, and yet conceded against the run of play and went into halftime in shock, down 1-0. Once again, like in their last two outings in finals in Japan, they couldn’t tally a goal. The Reds took 21 shots, and 8 on target (to São Paulo’s 4 shots and 2 on target), and won 17 corners (São Paulo didn’t even have one). There were appeals for penalties, three goals disallowed, and a red-card challenge disregarded. The 1-0 scoreline stood. “In football, these things can happen” Jurgen Klopp might say.
Even under the modern format, and with more money than ever creating a widening disparity between the South American and European leagues, Japan is still a tough neutral ground for European sides. South American sides have won 3 of the 8 matches held there, but are 0 for 6 in matches held in the UAE and Moracco.
This year’s tournament is in Qatar. While I’m not necessarily happy about the location—what with their modern day slavery, and the thousands of deaths from working on World Cup stadiums—well, at least it’s not as far for Liverpool to travel in December.
Hopefully this time Liverpool will make the not-as-long haul back with something shiny and new.