Real the star attraction at Club World Cup
RABAT - Agence France-Presse
Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (C) celebrates his second goal against Celta Vigo with his teammate Marcelo during their Spanish First Division soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid December 6, 2014. REUTERS PhotoEuropean giants Real Madrid will face either Mexican side Cruz Azul or Asian champions Western Sydney Wanderers for a place in the final of the Club World Cup, which kicks off in Morocco on Dec. 10.
Cruz Azul won the Concacaf Champions League title while the Sydney club beat Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal for the Asian title.
The December 10-20 Club World Cup tournament will be played at Rabat and Marrakech and features seven clubs: Real, Auckland City of New Zealand who are champions of Oceania, Cruz Azul, Moghreb Athletic of Tetouan from the host nation as well as Argentina's San Lorenzo, the Copa Libertadores winners.
Western Sydney Wanderers and Algeria's Setif, the recently crowned African champions, make up the numbers.
The Club World Cup will go ahead despite Moroccan authorities trying to have the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, due to be staged in the country in January and February, postponed because of the Ebola epidemic.
And it will be the star-studded Cristiano Ronaldo-fired Real side that shall surely attract most attention in their bid to emulate last year's winners Bayern Munich and continue European domination of the tournament.
Since its launch in 2000, Corinthians of Brazil have won twice, the last time in 2012, but aside from that there has been a roll call of European giants' victories since 2007, including AC Milan, Inter Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona, twice, to go along with Bayern.
Real right-back Dani Carvajal admitted that adding a new title to their honours in the shape of the Club World Cup was his team's driving goal.
"To win the Club World Cup is a massive motivation and would be a great end to the season," he said in a Twitter live chat organised by his club.
"The group is fully aware of the importance of lifting this title and we are keen to keep winning. It's a dream for me to compete in it because of how hard it is to qualify and I'll try to enjoy it as much as possible.
"It'd be special to win it, but it won't be easy."
The other team to go straight into the semi-finals are top Argentine club San Lorenzo, of whom Pope Francis is a fervent supporter.
They will play the winners of the first quarter-final between Algerian outfit Setif and the winners of a preliminary play-off pitching hosts Moghreb Athletic Tetouan against tournament regulars Auckland.
There has, however, been drama for antipodean rivals Sydney, who have travelled to Morocco despite fears they could boycott the tournament over a pay dispute.
The Asian champions left for the north African country with no agreement between the club and its players over how much they will be paid for taking part.
"The players' decision to get on the plane was a show of good faith," a Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) spokesman told AFP.
The PFA said the club wants to pay players 10 percent of prize money, fees and bonuses from the Club World Cup, valued at least $1 million (810,000 euros). But the players believe they are due 50 percent.
The footballers argue that under their collective bargaining agreement, a club must pay players at least half of all prize money, fees and bonuses after winning the AFC Champions League (ACL).