Now that the tournament has passed its half-way point, a few general thoughts. Check back in a couple of days for my evaluation of the Barca v America match, plus a general assessment of the players' form at this point of the season. I will say one thing now - this fun cartoon from Catalan daily Sport from before the game really does sum up how far Barcelona have come as a team in the last few years. General translation (from a kindly Spanish speaker): "Without Van Gaal on the bench and Bogarde in defence, it won't be so easy for Piojo Lopez." 'El Piojo', of course, being the once-great Argentinean striker Claudio Lopez, who scored 12 goals against Barca in 15 games while he was playing for Valencia.
El Piojo is no longer the devastating force he once was, but Barca is no longer the wounded, sick giant it once was either.
By the way, if you're looking for coverage of the tournament - since there seems to be none in the British press - oleole.com's contest-winning bloggers are doing a great job.
Some of the 'smaller' teams (ie from regions other than UEFA and CONMEBOL) are complaining that the format is rigged for the South American side and the European one to meet in the final. They're right. This needs to change for the tournament to get more exciting. I've seen people suggest adding the UEFA Cup winners (and their equivalent in the other Federations), which seems like a good idea. Perhaps a seeded group stage? Too many teams would probably bring about the same complaints some people have about the group stages of the Champions League and the World Cup (which I think are rubbish, but it is an often-cited complaint).
And then of course there's the problem of finding a big enough gap in the calendars of all the teams to play so many matches - not easy given the variation in season times between the leagues. For example Barca are in the middle of their campaign right now, and probably didn't want to take time out to fly to Japan. Most of the teams from other federations just ended their season recently, and are probably a bit tired. It's not fair on them to be playing a team in the peak of fitness.
One suggestion I've seen for the timing of the CWC is pre-season, which seems good to me. It's an adverse time for the Europeans, but they've got tons of other advantages already anyway, so they shouldn't moan. Besides, it's just like a pre-season tour, except the players will actually get some competitive games in and have a chance to work on their fitness. Commercially it's also similar, because it grants the team more exposure to a different market.
Which brings me to hosting issues. The Japanese love their football, and do a great job organising the tournament, plus turning out in force to the games (and ensuring that Barca pretty much have a home crowd), but hosting it there every year is not good for the CWC itself. Every continent should have a chance to host, given the nature of the tournament.
It's said that everyone bar the Europeans takes the CWC (and its predecessor the Intercontinental Cup) seriously. In fact, the contempt shown towards the tournament by the English-speaking press is really annoying. If all the other teams take it seriously (and they do), the fact that the whole of Europe treats it like a joke is a serious indication of a lack of respect. Or perhaps those people are simply too secure in their belief that European football is superior in everyway to the football played everywhere else in the world. (Least some of you need reminding, Liverpool were beaten last year by San Paulo, who also beat the Barca Dream Team in 1993. And then there's the victory I regard most fondly as someone who appreciates Riquelme's magic - Boca out-playing then-great Real Madrid to defeat them in 2000.)
Sure, as a Barca supporter I'm not too pleased that the team have to jet off in the middle of the season to Japan, but since you have to participate you might as well take it as seriously as your opponents do. It's encouraging so far to see that Barca are taking the tournament seriously, spurred on no doubt by the Dream Team's failure, and by the South Americans in the team, who know what this trophy means back home. Well, that, and the latest example of Rijkaard's ability to motivate: he apparently told them that the Milan team he won the Intercontinental twice with as a player won because they went to the tournament with the desire to bring back the trophy.
(Oh yeah, early Champions League draw reaction: aww, dammit.)