The Club World Cup is a strange competition in terms of how it is shown such extreme and opposite levels of apathy across the different continents. Most of the world shares the European (and particularly British) view that it’s a novelty tournament, and for Chelsea a very inconvenient disruption to their domestic schedule.
In complete contrast, the event is the incontestable highlight on the club football calendar in South America. It represents their coveted sole annual opportunity to have a crack against the European powerhouses of world football. More than half of the ticket sales made have been in Brazil. Corinthians will be bringing a fair old chunk of Sao Paulo with them. It’s exactly this self-placed importance on the competition that makes the Brazilian team favourites in the eyes of many – along with the belief held in South America that Chelsea represent their best chance of winning since Internacional beat Liverpool in 2006.
Taking place in Japan for the second year running, FIFA continue to struggle to give the event the recognition they feel it warrants. Surely the biggest issue for European teams is timing. Not one Champions League winner to date has ever been expected to prioritise the World Cup over the following season’s domestic league title. In our case the fact that The FA were so inflexible and reluctant to help Chelsea by refusing to postpone our league game with Sunderland this weekend, didn’t exactly help much either. One of the final acts of Roberto di Matteo as Chelsea manager was to condemn the organisation for this lack of consideration.
“You would think the Premier League would have every interest in making sure that they give you the best chance to be successful in Japan, which would reflect very, very well on the English football” said the Italian. “I just can’t get my head around it. To give yourself the best chance travelling to Japan, with nine hours time difference, arriving three days before, you will need to do everything in your power to be ready for those games”.
So the South Americans will simply have to excuse us, but if the English governing football bodies don’t give a damn if a win, how on earth are we supposed to?
We know now that our opponents for the semi finals will be Mexican side Monterrey, who return to the Japan after their participation last year, in which they were considered to be the strongest side CONCACAF had ever sent to the competition, only for them to fall at the first hurdle against Japanese Champions Kashiwa Reysol. Quite how they have become continental champions two years in a row, no one is really sure, given their dreadful domestic form in Mexico. Once again a top eight finish looks in doubt!
Their side is essentially the same from last year, including internationals such as Mexico playmaker Angel Reyna, and his countrymen Severo Meza, Jesus Zavala and Aldo De Nigris. There is also Olympic Champion Hiram Mier, Ecuador wing-back Walter Ayovi and former Argentine international Cesar Delgado, who scored twice in the quarters against Korean outfit Ulsan Hyundai. Their key player without question though is Chilean striker Humberto Suazo. The veteran forward’s regular absences this year have been as big as reason as any why they have struggled domestically for so long. Realistically, having Suazo on top form represents their only chance of beating Chelsea on Thursday.
I don’t think it’s a particularly disrespectful assumption to predict a Chelsea vs Corinthians final. Indeed, anything but would be a total disaster from a South American point of view. They’d have blown their opportunity to play Europe and we’d have outrageously failed to live up to our end of the bargain.
Under the guidance of the Brazilian league’s longest reigning manager, Tite, Corinthians’ successful Copa Libertadores campaign was based on the best defensive record in the history of the competition, although that isn’t to say they’re an especially defensive team. At the end of the tournament it seemed that were using a fairly novel 4-2-4-0 formation with two attacking midfielders directly in front of star players Ralf and Paulinho with the centre forwards pushed wide and tracking the runs of the full back.
Since then, they’ve switched to a more standard 4-2-3-1 which they’ll most likely use against us. The biggest question being asked of Tite and his side is simply whether or not they can operate with the same defensive solidity as they did in the Libertadores. We can bet our lives they will have planned assiduously to make sure that they do. A final against Chelsea will be one of the biggest occasions in the careers of many of their squad and coaching staff. If they are ultimately unsuccessful then it certainly won’t be for lack of focus, preparation or desire. The obviously higher amount of quality in Chelsea’s team seems to be the only factor denying them, in my opinion at least, the title of ‘favourites’.
It’s typical that the competition should coincide directly with the moment our league form looks to have turned around. This week has seen Rafa Benitez pick up his first two wins as Chelsea manager, with the changes he’s made to di Matteo’s system finally starting to deliver results. The Sunderland game on Saturday was by far our best performance in the Premier League since our away win at Tottenham. Bar a few brief periods of pressure and disorganisation, we looked comfortable with every player seemingly sure of his role. The nature of Fernando Torres’ second brace in two games being the most welcome sign of improvement in Benitez’ short reign so far.
Injury wise, John Terry hasn’t recovered from his knee injury quick enough (as was anticipated) to make the flight. Oriol Romeu and Daniel Sturridge have also stayed behind but haven’t been withdrawn from the squad list – whether they can join their teammates later in the week will be decided later on.
History has shown the World Cup can have very different effects/consequences for European teams. Manchester Utd, who it in 2008 then went on to comfortably win their 3rd league title in a row and also reach their second UCL final in as many years. Barcelona however lost David Villa to a broken leg in Japan last December and went on lose both their Spanish and European crowns.
There is absolutely no doubt, in spite of the attitude of the FA, Chelsea are taking this seriously, as well they should. We have a manager who openly prefers knock-out tournament style football and is presently at the club to primarily win trophies such as this one. Having such a strong Brazilian contingent will no doubt help fuel our desire to win as well. In particular Oscar who competed unsuccessfully with Internacional two years ago.
The timing may be annoying but trophies never hurt and in my opinion the prestige of the World Cup will definitely soon start to grow in Europe, even if it never becomes a priority for the competing teams. We might not get another opportunity to win it again for a while; I think it’s important we get our name engraved on the trophy ASAP. We’re definitely taking the competition more seriously than perhaps Corinthians would expect. As it ludicrous as it sounds I think this Chelsea team could do with a couple of good wins just as much as the Brazilians could do with being World Champions, and I predict we’ll get what we need.