Much as we might want them to provide feasts of flowing football, finals can often be tight, tense affairs. With so little to separate teams competing in these showpiece occasions, the difference between winning and losing can often be the decisive contribution of a single player.
Sunday’s Japan 2011 finale boasts several potential match-winners, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Andres Iniesta heading a dazzling all-star cast. And, as the history of the FIFA Club World Cup shows, whoever strikes the telling blow at the Yokohama International Stadium will be stepping in some illustrious footsteps.
Brazil 2000: Dida’s defiance thwarts Vasco
The only player to win the FIFA Club World Cup with two different clubs, Dida went into the competition’s first edition with his penalty-stopping expertise already a matter of national renown. Over the course of the 11-day event, this reputation became global. Having saved a Nicola Anelka spot-kick during the group stage, and kept Vasco da Gama at bay over 120 goalless minutes in the final, Dida tipped the balance of the ensuing shoot-out in Corinthians’ favour with a brilliant save to deny Gilberto. “I always had a knack for saving penalties,” he later explained. “I pulled off that save because I kept my cool and stuck to what I always did.”
Japan 2005: Reds repelled by Rogerio Ceni
The FIFA Club World Cup returned in 2005 after a five-year hiatus, but although the venue changed, some things remained very much the same. Once again, a Brazilian goalkeeper emerged as the final’s decisive player, with Rogerio Ceni earning the adidas Golden Ball on the back of an inspired display. It was he who did most to ensure that Sao Paulo beat Liverpool 1-0 in a final dominated by the Reds, with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard just two of the players left cursing the Paulista icon’s brilliance. "It was one of my best games,” Rogerio told FIFA.com afterwards. “We know how to win when we need to."
Japan 2006: Supersub sinks Barça
If Barcelona require any reminding of why Brazilian opposition cannot be underestimated, a re-run of the 2006 final should do the trick. Back then, with Ronaldinho in his pomp, the Catalans were expected to make light work of Internacional, and were dominating the final when Inter’s Abel Braga made a substitution. Ostensibly, it was a defensive switch, bringing on a midfielder, Adriano Gabiru, for the more attacking Fernandao. As it transpired, that same midfielder was the player who raced through to prod the game’s only goal beyond Victor Valdes. “It's an incredible feeling to come on as sub and score the goal that made us world champions,” a beaming Adriano told FIFA.com. “With God's help, I managed to do what Braga asked of me.”
Japan 2007: Classy Kaka inspires Milan
After three finals that had yielded just two goals between them, AC Milan and Boca Juniors served up a six-goal thriller, with Kaka at his inventive best. Filippo Inzaghi might have scored a double, but both were laid on by the Rossoneri No22, who then got on the score-sheet himself to put Milan out of sight. "It's been an unforgettable evening," he later reflected. "It's another page in the book of my life."
Japan 2008: Rooney fires Red Devils
Wayne Rooney’s first FIFA Club World Cup might have ended in glory, but it began on the bench. Two goals in the final 16 minutes of a thrilling 5-3 win over Gamba Osaka, and a personal plea to Sir Alex Ferguson, ensured he was back in the team to face Liga de Quito in the final, and he more than justified his place. United were down to ten men when he scored the game’s only goal with a brilliant placed finish, earning a glowing post-match accolade from team-mate Rio Ferdinand. "He is capable of being the best striker in the world,” said the England centre-half.
UAE 2009: Messi magic undoes Estudiantes
Of all his 200-plus goals in a Barcelona shirt, it was not Lionel Messi’s best. But the circumstances of the decisive goal he bundled home against Estudiantes, which snatched the Catalans a 2-1 win in the 110th minute of a genuinely hard-fought match, made it one of his most important. “The ball came in and I didn't know whether to head or chest it in,” Messi said of his goal. “I think it might even have come off the badge!”
UAE 2010: Eto’o on form in Abu Dhabi
With Inter Milan up against the first African finalists in the tournament’s history, it was one of the mother continent’s greatest footballing exports who provided the inspiration. A brilliant assist for Goran Pandev's opener was followed by an equally impressive finish for Inter’s second as Samuel Eto’o put settled Nerazzurri nerves inside 17 minutes. As Lucio enthused afterwards: “He has so much quality it’s unbelievable.”