ABU DHABI - The jubilation by a near-capacity crowd over Lionel Messi's appearance in Barcelona's semi-final win over Atlante of Mexico showed that Emirates football fans supported the Club World Cup, organisers said on Thursday.
However, crowds were poor in earlier matches after UAE title holders Al Ahli were eliminated 2-0 by Oceania champions Auckland City in the opening match, and officials criticised the local club for a lack of preparation.
European champions Barcelona, like South America's Estudiantes, had a bye into the semi-finals where they beat CONCACAF champions Atlante 3-1 in front of a 40,952 Zayed Sports City crowd on Wednesday.
The previous best attendance, officially 22,626, was for Estudiantes' 2-1 win over eight-man Pohang Steelers of South Korea at Mohammed bin Zayed stadium on Tuesday, helped by the remarkable presence of some 5,000 fans of the Argentine team hoping to see them crowned world champions for the second time.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter told a news conference poor attendance at the quarter-finals, when Atlante beat Auckland and Pohang overcame DR Congo's TP Mazembe, was a matter the local organisers would have to address for next year.
UAE Football Association president Sheikh Mohammed Khalfan al-Rumaithi said it was an issue he took very seriously.
"We had dreamt of a better participation by Al Ahli. They didn't plan well for the tournament. We urge whoever wins this year's (UAE) league to prepare properly," he said.
He said they would take lessons from Al Ahli's failure in the "hugely prestigious tournament".
With Barcelona and Estudiantes reaching the final, the status quo of a Europe v South America clash was maintained, sparking criticism of the tournament format.
However, FIFA would make no changes in the foreseeable future, said Chuck Blazer, head of FIFA's tournament organising committee.
He said FIFA had managed to adapt the old meeting of European and South American champions for the Intercontinental Cup while ensuring that clubs lost only one weekend of domestic league competition.
"It will continue like this. It was something we arrived at by agreement, enabling other confederations to take part," Blazer said.
Pohang's Brazilian coach Sergio Farias complained that Italian Roberto Rosetti, who sent off three of his players against Estudiantes, had favoured the Argentine side. Had Estudiantes come into the tournament earlier they might not have reached the final, he said.
Blatter pointed to a large difference in the actual playing time of the two semi-finals - 48 minutes when Estudiantes beat Pohang and 61 in Barcelona's victory over Atlante.
"This is entertaining football," he said of Barcelona's match with Atlante.
"We must have teams here who want to play football," he added, implying that Pohang had been more intent on stopping the opposition.comments