The sight of a lone forward tirelessly tracking back and flinging himself into tackles to recover possession is a common one at the Pacaembu, Corinthians’ home ground. Such endeavour invariably triggers the kind of communal roar usually reserved for celebrating goals, and has become a hallmark of a Timão side that has acquired a taste for success.
The club’s loyal fans are only too happy to applaud their heroes whenever they tackle back or put in a sprint to cut off a pass and regain the ball, and are hoping to see a similar work-rate from the team in Sunday’s FIFA Club World Cup Japan final against Chelsea.
Head coach Tite has made that kind of commitment an integral part of his team’s play, fusing it with their customary verve, a blend that can always be relied upon to push up the noise levels in the stands.
As Corinthians’ record of conceding just four goals in 14 games en route to the 2012 Copa Libertadores title showed, that combination has become a clearly defined template. As far as O Timão are concerned, there is no such thing as a lost ball, only possession that can be won back, a show of faith that Al-Ahly had no answer to in Wednesday’s semi-final.
“We know the [Club] World Cup is decided over two games,” said defensive midfielder Ralf in an interview with FIFA.com. “We’d been dreaming about a place in the final but to get there we had to win our first match. We had to get back to that style of ours as quickly as possible. That’s what The Professor [Tite] asked of us and we all accepted the challenge. And that’s exactly what happened in the semi-final, as you could see in the first half.”
Here, there and everywhere
Coming from perhaps the most tenacious midfielder in the Brazilian game, those words are a little misleading. Corinthians had not really relinquished their distinctive game at all, their coach merely having decided to rotate his players in the second half of this year and keep them fresh for Japan 2012, which falls in the last month of the Brazilian season.
“That was the idea all along: to prepare the team for these two games,” central defender Paulo Andre told FIFA.com. “We played really well in the first half [against Al-Ahly], but we could have done better in the second. I hope we can keep it going for the whole 90 minutes in the final.”
That first-half performance against the experienced Egyptians was indeed impressive and showcased the spirit and work-rate of Os Alvinegros, who seemed to be everywhere as they harried their hard-pressed opponents, for whom possession was impossible to retain at times.
Content to sit on their lead, Corinthians slackened off after the restart, spending more time in their own half and allowing the African champions to push forward and exert some pressure. Yet as Ralf explained, there was no cause for concern: “That can happen when you’re in front. You end up being a bit more careful, just to stop the other side scoring.”
The Corinthians gameplan depends to a large extent on that defensive strength, on their ability to stand their ground and catch the opposition off guard with lightning breaks led by players with pace to burn and an eye only for goal.
While Tite may well make the odd adjustment in preparation for Sunday’s meeting with the Blues, he is unlikely to make any drastic changes to their tactical set-up.
“We’ve got a settled formation,” added Andre. “Obviously we might make a change or two to cater for the opposition, but we should be sticking to a four-man defence, with two holding midfielders, a line of three ahead of them and a lone striker up front. It’s been working well for us and we’ve got the quality to give as good as we get against Chelsea.”
With a massive contingent of Corinthians fans in town for the big game, Ralf, Andre and Co are hoping they can turn the International Stadium Yokohama into a giant Pacaembu on Sunday. Goals or no goals, the noise levels are sure to be high, especially when the Timão terriers start snapping into their tackles, putting the pristine surface to the test in their ongoing and passionate pursuit for possession.