TOYOTA, Japan – With a star-studded squad that captured the European title in dominating fashion, Barcelona star Lionel Messi thinks his team has a duty to win the 2011 Club World Cup.
"We're under an obligation to win," Messi told FIFA.com. "The Club World Cup is a highly prestigious tournament, and we want to win it."
The tournament kicks off Thursday in Japan, with J-League champion Kashiwa Reysol meeting Oceania champion Auckland City in a playoff. The winner advances to a second-round match against CONCACAF champion Monterrey of Mexico on Saturday.
Champions League winner Barcelona and South American champion Santos are the seeded teams and don't enter the tournament until the semifinal stage begins Dec. 15.
Santos, winner of the Copa Libertadores, is hoping to end the four-year winning streak of European clubs.
Internacional was the last South American team to claim the title back in 2006, when it beat Barcelona in the final to give Brazilian clubs back-to-back titles following Sao Paulo's victory in '05.
The Club World Cup is back in Japan for the first time since 2008 after two editions in the UAE, and that gives a Japanese club a chance — albeit of sliver of one — of capturing the crown.
With a 3-1 victory over Urawa Reds on Saturday, Kashiwa became the first team in the 19-year history of the J-League to win the championship in its first season following promotion. A win over semiprofessional Auckland is conceivable for Kashiwa, but then come the continental champions — starting with Monterrey.
African champions Esperance Sportive De Tunis meet Asian Champions League winners Al-Sadd in the second of the two "quarterfinals."
Esperance beat Wydad Casablanca 1-0 last month to win African Champions League for the second time.
Al Sadd also booked its place in the tournament last month when the Qatari club upset South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors 4-2 in a penalty shootout in the Asian Champions League final.
Al Sadd and Esperance can draw motivation from last year's tournament, when TP Mazembe Engelbert became the first African team to make the final.