Barcelona and Santos FC are both in the semifinals of the FIFA Club World Cup, by virtue of winning their confederation championships. Because they are too important to have their precious time wasted by all kinds of nonsense, the winners of the UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores automatically advance to the semifinals of the Club World Cup, while everyone else has to play their way in. The competition started on December 8, but starts properly on Wednesday, December 14.
First, a fifth place match! CONCACAF champions CF Monterrey take on CAF champions Esperance in a consolation match after both teams lost their opening matches. This marks approximately the eleventy billionth time that a Mexican side has had solid expectations, then failed to advance to the semifinals of the Club World Cup. The chairmen at Mexican clubs are notoriously fickle and Victor Manuel Vucetich might get fired in the airport when his side comes back home from Japan.
Kashiwa Reysol, the shock J. League 1 champions, take on Santos FC in the first semifinal match on Wednesday, taking place three hours after the fifth place match. They were relegated two years ago and incredibly won the J. League 2 and J. League 1 championships back to back, becoming the first team to ever win the top flight in Japan a year after getting promoted from the second division.
As cool as their accomplishments are, the world's eye will be on Santos. They qualified for the 2012 Copa Libertadores automatically by winning the 2011 Copa, so they skated through the Brasileirao, looking ahead to this competition. Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso can't really increase their transfer value in this match, but people such as myself will take any opportunity to write about how ridiculously awesome they are. They're supplemented by other awesome players like Arouca, Felipe Anderson, who actually can increase their transfer value. Keep an eye on Danilo, a young player who will move to FC Porto in January.
Thursday's semifinal features Barcelona against Qatari side Al-Sadd, the winners of the last Asian Champions League. They've seriously busted out their wallets, shelling out for some proven internationals. Algeria international Nadir Belhadj, Ivory Coast international Kader Keita and Senegal international Mamadou Niang all play for the Qatari side, and all have been first choice for their countries in the recent past. They're not expected to challenge Barcelona, but those players are good enough that they're not just going to roll over and die.
Fifth place match, Monterrey vs. Esperance - Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2:30 a.m. ET
Semifinal match, Santos FC vs. Kashiwa Reysol - Wednesday, Dec. 14, 5:30 a.m. ET
Semifinal match, Barcelona vs. Al-Sadd - Thursday, Dec. 15, 5:30 a.m. ET
All games can be seen on FOX Soccer Channel in the USA.