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By Brian Homewood
ZURICH, Sept 4 (Reuters) - European champions Real Madrid will face either Mexican side Guadalajara or the eventual Asian champions in this year’s Club World Cup semi-finals following the draw made on Tuesday amid uncertainty over the future of the competition.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has ambitious plans to expand the tournament from 2021 onwards, staging it every four years rather than annually and increasing the number of teams from seven to 24.
Those plans have yet to be approved by the FIFA Council and in the meantime, it is uncertain if the tournament — which this year will be staged in the United Arab Emirates in December — will continue its current form in 2019 and 2020.
Only four of this year’s participants were known on Tuesday with the Asian, African and South American club championships all at the quarter-final stage.
Real, winners for the last two years, and the eventual South American champions received byes to the last four.
Oceania champions Team Wellington will meet Al Ain, champions of the host nation, in a preliminary match for the right to play the African champions in the second round.
The winners of that game will face South America’s Libertadores Cup champions.
Guadalajara, the champions of CONCACAF, were drawn against the Asian champions in the other of the two second-round ties with a match against Real Madrid as the prize.
The competition has been dominated by European teams since it was re-launched in its current form in 2005, reflecting the fact the best South American and African players are based in Europe rather than their own continents.
Although it is often felt that European sides regard the cup as little more than an exotic mid-season diversion, it creates huge interest in South America where fans long for the chance for their team to appear on the world stage.
Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno dismissed any suggestion it would be a walkover for his team.
“It’s never win easy to win any tournament, that’s the truth,” he told Reuters.
“Obviously, we have every confidence in our players but last year, the final was very even and the semi-finals were very difficult,” he said, remembering a 2-1 win over Al-Jazira in the semi-final and 1-0 win over Gremio in the final.
“Our opponents are always very highly motivated. They are young players who see this tournament as a chance to get themselves known around the world.”
Former Argentina midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, who took part in the draw, said that South America could benefit after moving the Libertadores final from June to November.
“It means it will be the same team which won the Libertadores,” he told Reuters. “In the past, with a longer gap, and with a transfer window in the middle, players left and the team which played in the Club World Cup was not the same one which won the Libertadores.
“Now this has changed and, for the South Americans, this is better.”
Reporting by Brian Homewood, Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Ed Osmond