By Samuel Eto’o
Doha, 4 February 2021 - This week, the eyes of the world will be on Qatar, as it takes another big step on its journey to the FIFA World Cup in 2022 by hosting the FIFA Club World Cup 2020 from 4-11 February.
During my playing career, I was very lucky to have had the opportunity not only to compete in this great competition, but to win it with Inter Milan. My memories of the Club World Cup could not be better, as for the first time, I had the pleasure of playing in a final against a very beautiful African team, TP Mazembe.
I had a lot of emotions for this match for both my home continent, Africa, and my duty to ensure victory for Inter. It was an honour to win the competition with Inter for the first time in the club’s history and to share this victory with my brothers from TP Mazembe.
After the game, I went to the Mazembe dressing room, I stayed a while, and I shared the moment with their players. These are great memories for me, especially as I also won the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. Winning this honour was a surprise for me, but made me very happy. It was the first time an African player won this distinction at the competition, so it was a great honour for me.
During interviews, I would often get asked about the celebration after my goal in the final with my team-mate Marco Materazzi. For me, every goal celebration with my brother Marco was special throughout my stay at Inter, but the significance of my celebration during this game is still a secret, and something that will always remain that way.
Last year, I had the privilege of attending the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup as a Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy Ambassador. The atmosphere in Qatar during the tournament was incredible and the games being played in some of the FIFA World Cup stadiums really added to the sense of occasion for both the players and the fans.
To meet fans that had travelled from countries like Brazil, Mexico and England – all famous for their passion and love of football – to enjoy this special tournament and the many amazing experiences Qatar has to offer was incredible and a first look at what people can expect when the FIFA World Cup comes to the country in 2022.
While it’s a pity that the number of international fans attending this year’s tournament will be extremely limited due to the pandemic, I’m sure the local football fans will create a great atmosphere in the stadiums.
The news that the two venues hosting the tournament – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and Education City Stadium – will be operating at a reduced capacity for all the matches is great for the players, as most will have been playing in empty stadiums for almost a full season now. A huge amount of work has been done by the Local Organising Committee to put strict protocols in place – such as mass testing and a socially distanced seating plan – to allow this to happen and make sure it is safe for fans to attend and enjoy games.
In recent years, the tournament has been dominated by the UEFA Champions League winners and I think Bayern Munich will be going into the tournament full of confidence that they can take home the trophy. The Bayern squad is full of quality, and with one of the world’s best strikers in Robert Lewandowski leading the line, they will be difficult to stop. If Bayern win the tournament, they will become only the second team after Barcelona in 2009 to win all six domestic and international titles up for grabs in one season, which would be an amazing achievement.
While Bayern will be favourites, the last non-European club to win the tournament was Corinthians of Brazil in 2012. With Brazilian club Palmeiras to represent South America after winning the Copa Libertadores, I’m sure they will travel to Qatar with a winning mentality and the belief that they can challenge Bayern for the title.
It is always a challenge for the clubs from the other regions to compete with the big European and South American clubs, but it will be a great opportunity for the players from Al Duhail, Al Ahly, Tigres UANL and Ulsan Hyundai to show their ability and compete with some of the best players in the world.
I know Qatar is ready and very excited to host the FIFA Club World Cup. Tournaments like this are really important for Qatar on its journey to hosting the World Cup in 2022, as it allows the country to not only get some invaluable experience of hosting a major event, but to learn from it and make the necessary improvements to ensure the 1.5 million fans expected to travel to the country in 2022 for the World Cup have an incredible experience.
Based on my experience as a player, I believe the opportunity to play at this tournament will be a special moment for the players involved and will leave behind many happy memories for them to look back on in the future.