MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 23: The FIFA Club World Cup trophy is seen prior to the La Liga 2017-18 match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on December 23 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)

FIFA Club World Cup: 5 Things Fans Should Know About the Competition

Following their narrow win over minnows Huesca, Real Madrid head off to the Middle East for the 18th annual edition of the FIFA Club World Cup, which brings together the globe's continental champions.


It may not have the allure and prestige of the Champions League, but the Club World Cup is the only competition at club level that attempts to prove just who is the best team in the world.


Real Madrid (unsurprisingly) have won twice on the spin, with the last non-European winner coming back in 2012.


Here's everything you need to know as Santiago Solari's men prepare to travel to the United Arab Emirates for the ten-day tournament.

1. Where Is It?

Since its inception in 2000, the tournament has only been held in Brazil, Spain, Japan, Morocco and, this year's hosts, the UAE.


The UAE also hosted last year's tournament and 2018 will mark the fourth occasion it has been held in the Gulf state.


As hosts UAE get to enter a team despite not having a continental champion. However, with all due respect, Al-Ain's home advantage can only go so far, and the chances of them winning the tournament on home soil remain extremely slim.


There are two venues for the tournament with Zayed Sports City Stadium (Abu Dhabi) and Hazza bin Zayed Stadium (Al Ain) hosting the games.

2. When Is It?

It's good news for fans of clubs that take a break over winter, because the tournament runs from the 12-22 December


With the timezone difference in UAE (GMT+4) matches are on quite late for fans in the UK and across Europe, but not prohibitively so. The earliest kick-offs are at 21:00 (GMT), with final on Friday December 22 taking place at 00:30 (GMT).

3. Who's Competing This Year?

This year will see Real Madrid (2018 UEFA Champions League winner), Kashima Antlers (2018 AFC Champions League winners), Esperance de Tunis (2018 CAF Champions League winners), Guadalajara (2018 CONCACAF Champions League winners), Team Wellington (2018 OFC Champions League winners), River Plate (2018 Copa Libertadores winners) face off against each other, in addition to hosts Al-Ain, who won the UAE Pro League.


Real Madrid are obviously the heavy favourites for a third win in three years, with River Plate, fresh from their win over rivals Boca Juniors at the Santiago Bernabeu, likely the other finalists. 


However, Esperance de Tunis (Tunisia's biggest club) will look to exploit any tiredness after River's physically and mentally draining couple of weeks should the two meet in the semi-finals.

4. Who's Won It Previously?

The Club World Cup has traditionally been dominated by European (particularly Spanish) giants. Both Real and Barça have won the tournament three times, with Los Blancos having won the previous two editions.


Manchester United are the only English side to win the tournament, when their legendary 2008 team that included the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney beat LDU Quito to the crown in Japan.


Chelsea and Liverpool have both lost to Brazilian opposition (Corinthians and Sao Paulo in 2012 and 2005 respectively.

5. What's the Format?

A little bizarre. 


The hosts' representatives Al-Ain kick off the tournament against Team Wellington on Wednesday 12 December. The winner of that match then faces Esperance de Tunis in the quarter finals, with Guadalajara already drawn against Kashima Antlers in the only other quarter.


As the two seeded teams Real Madrid and River Plate don't play a minute of football until 18-19 December and await the two quarter-final winners in the semis.


There are also third and fifth place playoffs, because let's face it, finishing fifth is more of an achievement than finishing sixth... in a seven-team tournament.