Ah, Club World Cup season is upon us.
It's the tournament that gets almost no attention in Europe unless your team qualify for it, and if that's the case it momentarily becomes the focal point of your existence for a week or so.
The 2020/21 edition arrives a little late (cheers Covid x) and takes place in Japan, with Bayern Munich from Europe, Palmeiras from South America and Al Ahly from Asia among those vying to get their hands on silverware and add that nice little gold badge to their kit for the next year or so.
Clubs might be forgiven for struggling to get up for it. A trip to Japan for, let's face it, a second-rate FIFA tournament might hardly list high among the priorities in the midst of a pandemic that is causing all sorts of trouble.
But anyone not quite feeling it only needs to look back 14 months or so, to the 2019 final, to understand what it means.
Like Bayern do now, Liverpool had bigger priorities at the time. They'd just won the Champions League and were looking into the horizon as a first league title in 30 years edged ever closer. Yet they still found themselves caught up in the occasion; by the time they'd edged past Monterrey to reach the final, fans watching on were desperate for them to come home as World Champions for the first time ever.
They had only ever reached the final twice, losing to Brazilian clubs on both occasions. In 1981, they lost to Flamengo, in one of the most famous wins of the Brazilian club's history.
Guess who they were facing in the final this time around?
That would be Flamengo.
And while the resulting final was hardly a classic, it was certainly memorable.
We had Liverpool, at full strength, on top of their game and up for the occasion, against a Flamengo team who were treating the game as literally the biggest in their history. The result was a proper battle of attrition; the tackles were late, the tension was high, and the football was ugly.
We had our momentary flash of VAR drama when, late on, Sadio Mane was taken out in the box, only for Jurgen Klopp's team to have their penalty (rightly) stripped away from them by the technology.
As the European champions dominated, Flamengo held on, and must have thought the Gods were with them given the amount of chances Liverpool were missing. There were 99 minutes on the clock, a chunk of stoppage time played, when Roberto Firmino came up with a moment of quality that ended with him circling the pitch with his shirt above his head.
The South Americans had one big chance to get back into it, but Lincoln, with the goal at his mercy, blasted over. And there sank the hearts of the Brazilian hopefuls, who knew their race was run.
Some in Europe had written Flamengo off before kick off, given the standard of their opposition, but what we saw proved that the gap in quality between Europe and the rest of the world isn't quite as chasmic as the gap in finances.
It was the 16th Club World Cup since 2000, but this was the eighth time that there had been one goal or less between the teams in the final.
It's a bigger tournament, and a harder tournament to win, than most in Europe think. Liverpool's knife-edge win over Flamengo should prove that to Bayern - take it lightly at your peril.
Source : 90min