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Japan play host to the world's best

Manchester United have been here before, but this year they travel to the Club World Cup knowing that another performance like the one against a Romario-inspired Vasco da Gama in 2000 (where they lost 3-1 and failed to make the knockout stages), will see them return home in disgrace.

The chance to become the world's top club side only comes around once a year and on December 18 United, who are already in the semi-finals, will once again push for glory in a competition they entered eight years ago, at the expense of the FA Cup.

The competition, formerly known as the 'Club World Championship' in its 2000 inaugural edition, sees the champions from all six continental confederations play each other in a knockout format. While the format of the competition has changed slightly since, meaning United can walk away with the title after only playing two games, lifting the trophy in Yokohama on December 21 still means the right to call yourself 'Best club in the world'.

Historically. South American sides have faired well with Corinthians, Sao Paolo and Internacional picking up three of the four tournament titles played since 2000, with AC Milan getting Europe's first trophy in 2007.

This year, United are favourites. Given the players at their disposal that should come as little surprise, but there could be a few shocks in a competition where the big-boys don't always come out on top. Here's a guide to each of the teams who will be competing in Japan between December 11-21:

Manchester United (England; Europe/UEFA)
Who are they? Champions of Europe and the English Premier League, United are the most successful team in England over the past decade and will be favourites to take home the title. Led by Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils have a rich history of success and have been in the tournament before after pulling out of the FA Cup to compete in the inaugural 2000 edition in Brazil. As the team with the furthest to travel, their only stumbling block could be acclimatising to their surroundings.
Captain? Rio Ferdinand. In the absence of Gary Neville, Ferguson has a number of top quality professionals at the club to call upon to lead the side. Ferdinand is arguably the best defender in Europe at the moment and leads the side from the back with authority, while United stalwarts Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes provide an experienced ear.
Player to watch? Cristiano Ronaldo. The world's best player, coming off the back of a 42-goal season, will have all eyes on him in Japan. United boast a stellar line-up of strikers including Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez, but Ronaldo has taken all the plaudits. Despite a summer of turbulent transfer talk linking him with a move to Real Madrid, the Portuguese winger will be keen to prove he is a big game player.
Prediction? Winners.

LDU Quito (Ecuador; South America/CONMEBOL)
Who are they? Shock winners of the Copa Libertadores last year, LDU were the first side to win the title in Ecuadorian football history, knocking out the likes of Estudiantes de La Plata, San Lorenzo and Mexican big spenders America. Coach Edgardo Bauza has made the side tough to beat, but has had to contend with the loss of several key players, most notably Joffre Guerron.
Captain? Captain Patricio Urrutia is a dynamic midfielder who takes control of the game and scored seven goals in LDU's Copa run last year. He was also part of the Ecuador squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany and has established himself in the centre of midfield for their 2010 qualifying campaign.
Player to watch? Claudio Bieler. The 24-year-old striker has already been around the block, having played in Argentina, Chile and now Ecuador. Not the most powerful forward, Bieler's movement and pace causes defences havoc and he has a decent scoring record.
Prediction? Finalists.

Adelaide United (Australia; Asia/AFC)
Who are they? Performing well in the AFC Champions League (where they lost in the final to Gamba Osaka) and seen as one of the top teams in the Australian A-League, Adelaide are the third Australian side to play in the tournament after South Melbourne, who took part in 2000. The club itself is only five years old and, led by former player Aurelio Vidmar, will have to come through a play-off against Waitakere United before they can reach the knockout stages.
Captain? Travis Dodd. Hitting two hat-tricks in the AFC Champions League, the 28-year-old has been attracting the attention of European clubs with his solid performances. Having played in Greece and Malaysia, Todd built his career in Australia, but despite scoring on his international debut in 2006, he has not cemented his place in the Socceroos' squad.
Player to watch? Scott Jamieson. The versatile left-back has tons of experience for a 20-year-old and learned his trade at Bolton Wanderers in England. A key member of the squad already, despite making his A-League debut at the start of the season, Jamieson's quick and aggressive style of play could catch the eye of the European scouts.
Prediction? Quarter-finals.

Al Ahly (Egypt; Africa/CAF)
Who are they? Africa's most successful club, the Egyptian side dominated last year winning the league and African Champions League double. Portuguese coach Manuel Jose has now led the club to four of their six Champions League successes and the club boast a number of players who have starred for Egypt in their back-to-back African Nations Cup wins. They are also nicknamed 'The Red Devils' and came third at the tournament two years ago.
Captain? Shady Mohamed. The sudden departure of goalkeeper and former skipper Essam El Hadary to FC Sion shocked the club, but Mohamed has the experience and toughness to succeed in the position. A quick central defender with outstanding fitness, he will have to be at his best to get Al Ahly into the finals.
Player to watch? Mohamed Aboutrika. The outstanding performer of the 2008 African Nations Cup, Aboutrika runs the midfield with his creativity and skill on the ball. Providing a potent goalscoring threat from behind the strikers, if "The Smiling Assassin" is on top form then his club could go far.
Prediction? Semi-finals.

Gamba Osaka (Japan; Asia/AFC)
Who are they? Gamba are arguably the most feared side in Japan and have won the AFC Champions League as well as several domestic trophies in recent seasons. Coach Akira Nishino has the side playing attractive, attacking football and bases his style of play on slick passing. Home advantage and the support of their fans will play a massive part in their hopes for success.
Captain? Satoshi Yamaguchi. A veteran defender of over 350 appearances in the J-League with two clubs, Yamaguchi marshals his troops well from the back and is a dangerous threat from set-pieces with his aerial prowess.
Player to watch? Yasuhito Endo. The playmaker at the heart of everything for his side, Endo has been one of the J-League's top players in recent years and boasts excellent passing and dead-ball skills. With Brazilian striker Lucas ahead of him, Gamba don't lack for goals and netted 27 times in 12 matches on their way to Champions League glory.
Prediction? Semi-finals.

Pachuca (Mexico; CONCACAF)
Who are they? One of the most successful clubs in Mexico, Los Tuzos won the CONCACAF Champions' Cup in 2007 and 2008 and, under coach Enrique Meza, have shown themselves a force to be reckoned with. The club won five titles in 15 months during 2006/07, but their only appearance in the Club World Cup ended in disappointment when they were beaten by Tunisian surprise packages Etoile Sportive du Sahel last year.
Captain? Colombian keeper Miguel Calero has vast experience, including being part of the national team squad at the 1998 World Cup. The 37-year-old retired from internationals after the 2007 Copa America, but in a position where he will always be compared to the legendary René Higuita, he has done well to solidify his status as one of the continent's best.
Player to watch? Gabriel Caballero. Along with Jaime Correa who brings the steel in midfield, the Pachuca legend is a key player. Of Argentine-Mexican origin, Caballero will retire after the next campaign and will want to go out on a high.
Prediction? Quarter-finals.

Waitakere United (New Zealand; Oceania)
Who are they? For a club only on the football radar since 2004, Waitakere have done well to collect a host of silverware including two New Zealand Football Championship Minor Premiership crowns, one full league championship and two O-League titles, since their inception. Led by Chris Milicich, the minnows are not expected to advantage beyond the play-offs, but have graced the competition before in 2007 when they lost to Sepahan. Captain? Danny Hay. The 33-year-old defender is a vital part of the side and leads by example at the back. Having failed to make the grade at Leeds United, Hay played in the A-League before moving to Waitakere.
Player to watch? Neil Emblen. Born in England, the 37-year-old midfielder is another who boasts bags of experience in both the English and Australian leagues. A combative midfielder, Emblen is coming to the end of his career, but will hope to use his experience to help the tiny Kiwi side cause a major upset against Adelaide.
Prediction? Play-offs.

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