x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

More dazzle in Abu Dhabi for Club World Cup this year

First we marveled at Messi and Barca in 2009. Now we're in awe of Eto'o and Inter in 2010. Our cup runneth over.

Samuel Eto'o of Inter Milan celebrates scoring the team's second goal against TP Mazembe by showing plastics.
Samuel Eto'o of Inter Milan celebrates scoring the team's second goal against TP Mazembe by showing plastics.

If you throw a Saturday night soiree and invite some stars, you sort of hope in your gut that they will, you know, star.

Well, Abu Dhabi has thrown Club World Cup finals in two successive Decembers, and it has known the excellent fate of stars who just flat-out, stark-raving starred. Two of them took this historically fledgling event and, right there in Zayed Sports City, shoveled upon it some fresh gravitas.

If it wasn't Lionel Messi uncannily detecting Xavi's long ball coming from the distant right and into the box in 2009, it was Samuel Eto'o spotting Goran Pandev in a shaft of space over to the right in 2010.

If it wasn't Messi materialising suddenly and furtively behind two Estudiantes defenders in the 110th minute in 2009, it was Eto'o fielding Diego Milito's flick straight out of the air in the 13th minute in 2010 and giving it some achingly artful redirection.

And if it wasn't Messi lunging forward to demonstrate he could use his chest just as well as his feet - who knew? - to pop it past Damian Albil and into the right of the goal in 2009, it was Eto'o shipping a slow but tantalising ball beyond a lunging Kazembe Mihayo so that Pandev could left-foot it past Muteba Kidiaba into the left edge of the goal in 2010.

Atop that, Eto'o himself even scored four minutes later on a fine, rolling, curling thing, and the bright lights shone once more in Abu Dhabi.

Much as Messi's Barcelona came off an unprecedented Spanish-European treble in 2009 and looked regal even in duress against an ambitious Argentine side at Zayed Sports City, Eto'o's Inter Milan came off an unprecedented Italian-European treble in 2010 and looked regal against an ambitious Congolese side at Zayed Sports City.

Factor in that Eto'o would seem to be the most valuable player not only in the Club World Cup but in the Milky Way Galaxy, because wherever he goes seems to hoard every cup in sight - Barcelona 2009, Inter Milan 2010 - and it made for one vivid send-off as the Club World Cup vaults to Japan for 2011.

An Abu Dhabi and a UAE warming in a whoosh to big-time football has snared two Decembers of big-time football with big times from its big-timers.

So on the final night of the 11-day event, Zayed Sports City majored in pizzazz. It had fireworks. It had glitter churning out of one of those glitter machines, and where does one buy one of those, anyway? It had an Inter Milan side hopping up and down with the trophy in a glitter shower while manager Rafael Benitez sort of semi-hopped behind them, his tenure assured of lasting into a 192nd day before the winter gruel in northern Italy rears its cold, cold head.

It had the bizarre sight of Eto'o celebrating by holding out two plastic shopping bags, a glitch only in that paper would have been more environmentally sustainable.

It had the revelation Kidiaba in goal for TP Mazembe Englebert, finally conceding (thrice) but making enough glaring saves to match that in memory.

It had the thousands of Brazilian fans from Sport Club Internacional lingering from the earlier third-place match and bursting into a giant, dazzling goose-bump of a song in the 71st minute of a final that did not involve their club. (Note to Brazilian Embassy: May I please have one of those Brazilian passports? Obrigado.

And all through the play, through good and bad, it had those horns from Lubumbashi, the relatively smallish TP Mazembe section having lent the fortnight so much of its gusto.

This vibrant throng not only celebrated football as reputedly it does always, and sometimes when its beloved club isn't even playing, but it cheered a dose of significance.

Here in Abu Dhabi, after all, TP Mazembe got the win most meaningful, the 2-0 upset of Internacional last Tuesday that broke the rigid lock that had left the final off limits to continents other than Europe and the Americas. This quickly represented a win for all Africa, and it painted this second Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi as Africa's event.

That storyline did not necessarily die out in the final, not when you consider that TP Mazembe's heady, thoughtful run stalled only when it ran across a European team with an African marvel.

Then again, as a Cameroonian in 2010 followed upon an Argentine in 2009 in making Abu Dhabi a place where the stars shone in these recent Decembers, you might call Eto'o a star of Cameroon, star of Africa, star of Spain, star of Italy, star now of Abu Dhabi and, really, star of Earth.

cculpepper@thenational.ae