YOKOHAMA: Real Madrid will be seeking to keep alive its chances of a unique quadruple title haul when it travels to Japan for the Club World Cup from December 8-18.
Madrid is trying to become the first team to win the Champions League, Spanish league, Spain's Copa del Rey and the Club World Cup in the same season. It leads the Spanish league, is through to the knockout stage of the Champions League and is alive in the Copa del Rey.
The tournament kicks off on Thursday in Yokohama with newly-crowned J-League champions Kashima Antlers facing Oceania champion Auckland City for a chance to advance to the second round.
Zinedine Zidane's Madrid side hasn't been defeated since April at Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals of last season's Champions League. They return to the competition with 13 of the players who lifted the Clubs World Cup title in 2014, where they beat San Lorenzo in the final.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Keylor Navas are all expected to participate, but the biggest absence will be Gareth Bale, who recently underwent ankle surgery.
European teams have been the most successful in the tournament, with eight titles, although it is not considered as high on the priority list for European clubs as it is for the South Americans.
Madrid's main rival for the title will be Copa Libertadores champions Atletico Nacional who will travel to Japan with a strong team but is dealing with the trauma of the recent tragedy that caused the cancellation of the Copa Sudamericana final.
Atletico was to play Brazilian club Chapecoense in the final but the plane carrying the Brazilian team to the game crashed, killing almost all on board.
The Colombian club features goalkeeper Franco Armani, who did not concede a single goal during the group stage of Copa Libertadores, as well as captain Alexis Henriquez and striker Miguel Borja.
Atletico opens its campaign in the semifinals on Dec. 14 in Osaka. Real Madrid's first match is the following day in Yokohama.
In addition to Kashima and Auckland City, Mexican side Club America, South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors and African champions Mamelodi Sundowns will all be looking for a chance to pull off an upset against the favorites.
Club America will be making its third appearance in the tournament, and will feature 16 players with previous experience.
Paul Aguilar is recovering from a cruciate ligament tear in his right knee, but Moises Munoz and Oribe Peralta will be available.
Recently-crowned Asian champions Jeonbuk Motors will pin their hopes on veteran striker Lee Dong-gook and the Brazilian duo Leonardo and Edu.
Kashima and Auckland City, who owe their place in the competition to their sixth straight OFC Champions League triumph, will vie for a chance to play Mamelodi Sundowns in Osaka on December 11.