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When underdogs upset the old order

Raja Casablanca players and officials pose with their silver medals after reaching the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup final | Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Teams representing Europe and South America have enjoyed unbroken dominance at the FIFA Club World Cup.

In the 16 editions to date, the winners have always been either the UEFA or CONMEBOL champions, with the representatives of the two continents facing each other in 12 of those finals.

That said, the tournament has had its share of upsets and David versus Goliath moments. On five occasions, less fancied teams that were not expected to feature prominently made it to the final or podium.

United Arab Emirates 2010: Mazembe make their mark

As African champions for the second year running, TP Mazembe headed to the United Arab Emirates determined to make amends for their lamentable sixth-place finish the previous year.

Despite having their best player, Treasure Mputu, suspended, Les Corbeaux prevailed against Mexico’s Pachuca in the second round (1-0), before seeing off Brazilian giants Internacional in some style (2-0) to set up a dream final against an Inter Milan side featuring Samuel Eto’o.

And while Nerazzurri proved too strong in the decider (3-0), Mazembe had the distinction of becoming the first non-European or South American club to reach the final.

To add further gloss to their achievement, Dioko Kaluyituka took the adidas Silver Ball back to Congo DR.

Morocco 2013: Raja stun Ronaldinho & Co

Three years after TP Mazembe’s exploits, another African club made it all the way to the final. Raja Club Athletic’s feat was arguably even more impressive, having only qualified for the tournament by virtue of being Moroccan league champions.

As such, the Casablanca outfit had to face Auckland City in the first round, only prevailing thanks to a last-minute goal from Abdelilah Hafidi (2-1).

The second round was harder still, with the Green Eagles needing extra time to see off Mexico’s Monterrey (2-1).

However, the best was yet to come in the form of a 3-1 semi-final defeat of an Atletico Mineiro side containing Ronaldinho in front of jubilant fans at the Stade de Marrakech.

Just like TP Mazembe, the Moroccan giantkillers fell at the final hurdle, in their case going down 2-0 to European champions Bayern Munich, with Franck Ribery at his best.

And while the Frenchman was the deserved recipient of the adidas Golden Ball, Raja had the consolation of seeing their striker Mouhcine Iajour, scorer of two goals, pick up the Bronze Ball.

Morocco 2014: Auckland’s moral victory

While Auckland City ruled the roost for many years in Oceania, the New Zealanders were often overpowered by bigger clubs on the world stage. Often, but not always.

After a historic win (3-2) against TP Mazembe in the match for fifth place in 2009, the Navy Blues went one better in 2014 by gracing the podium.

Their epic run in Morocco saw them first triumph over Moghreb Tetouan (0-0; 4-3 PSO) and then ES Setif (1-0).

They then pushed Argentinian heavyweights San Lorenzo all the way in the semi-final (2-1 a.e.t.), before winning the match for third place against Mexico’s Cruz Azul (1-1, 4-2 PSO).

The achievement was all the more remarkable given the club’s semi-professional status and an ambitious strategy that favoured a passing game over their normal direct style.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. We didn’t lose a single game in regulation time, and we deserved third place because we were fantastic from start to finish. These players were the moral victors of this World Cup,” said Ramon Tribulietx, Auckland’s Catalan coach.

Japan 2016: Colombians crushed by Kashima

After a laboured 2-1 win over Auckland in the opening round, very few expected Kashima Antlers to reach the final of the 2016 Club World Cup.

Having only secured their place by winning the J.League days before the tournament, the Japanese club, playing a high-tempo, technical game, followed up with impressive wins over Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa (2-0) and Colombia’s Atletico Nacional (3-0).

Kashima even went 2-1 ahead in the final against Real Madrid thanks to a double by adidas Bronze Ball winner Gaku Shibasaki, before suffering at the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo, who equalized on the hour then sealed victory with two more strikes in extra time (4-2 a.e.t).

United Arab Emirates 2018: Al-Ain rock River

Two years later, it was Real who once again dashed the dreams of a huge underdog in the final, this time seeing off Al Ain 4-1.

The UAE league champions, who were flying the flag for the host nation, began their heroic odyssey by coming from three goals down against Team Wellington in the first round (3-3, 4-3 PSO.)

The Emirati club then kicked on with an emphatic victory over Esperance Tunis (3-0), before eliminating mighty River Plate in an epic semi-final (2-2, 5-4 PSO).

This report was intially published by

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