Barca fast-tracked into world club semi-finals

July 27, 2006

TOKYO, July 27 (Reuters) - European champions Barcelona will join this year's Club World Cup at the semi-final stage, Japanese organisers confirmed on Thursday.

The Catalan club will receive a first-round bye in FIFA's six-team tournament in December, along with the eventual winners of South America's Libertadores Cup.

Barcelona, who beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Champions League final in May, will play their opening match on Dec. 14 in Yokohama.

The tournament takes place from Dec. 10 to 17. The preliminary draw will be held in September.

Last year Sao Paulo won the first version of the revamped Club World Cup with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool, their third world title.

The tournament involves the six continental champions but host country Japan will again be without representation as none of its J-League teams are left in the Asian Champions League.

Mexico's Club America and Oceania champions Auckland City have already qualified. The representatives of Asia and Africa, along with South America, will be decided later this year.

Barcelona were beaten 2-1 by Sao Paulo in 1992 in the Intercontinental Cup, the former annual one-off match between the champions of Europe and South America.

FIFA staged a multi-team club world championship six years ago in Brazil but were forced to pull the plug on the competition in 2001 after the collapse of marketing partner ISMM/ISL.

The Japan Football Association (JFA) are hoping, meanwhile, to persuade FIFA to allow them to keep the Club World Cup in the country beyond this year.

'No one other than (FIFA) president Sepp Blatter can make that decision,' JFA chief Saburo Kawabuchi told reporters.

FIFA have already turned down a JFA request to increase the number of teams to allow a Japanese team to take part in the competition.