It is Sao Paulo who will go on to play the winners of Liverpool and Deportivo Saprissa and earn a crack at the world title but when Al Ittihad return to Jeddah they can expect to be welcomed back as heroes after running the South American champions so close in their semi-final clash at the National stadium in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The Asian champions will once again tread the same grass as the Brazilians on Sunday in Yokohama when they play for third place but their combative and highly skilled performance not only quietened a partisan crowd of more than 31,000 but reduced the heavily fancied Brazilian team to defending their lead in the final minutes. 

"It was very surprising," Sao Paulo coach Paulo Autuori admitted to reporters, "a very difficult game especially in the first half. They closed us down a lot and marked us tightly. The second half was different, we had more of the ball and the second goal was a beautiful move."

Amoroso had given the Brazilian side the lead with a deflected shot in the 16th minute but Ittihad struck back as captain Mohamed Noor slid in on goalkeeper Ceni to notch his second goal of the tournament just after the half-hour mark.

"The problem was a misunderstanding of strategy," explained Autuori. "After scoring, we sat back and relaxed instead of pressing. Our triangle became inverted. It's very easy to get nervous in such big games like these, and in such moments it's important to have experienced players in your side like Amoroso and Ceni."

The much-travelled striker, who as a teenager player for Verdy Kawasaki, grabbed his second after a fine move ended with an inviting centre from Cicinho. Ceni then hit the third from the penalty spot following a foul on Aloisio.

"I'm very happy to get the goals and glad to reach the final," said Amoroso. "It's been a long time since I played in Japan but It's nice to have put on a good performance. I really appreciated the Sao Paulo supporters who were here to cheers us on."

At 3-1, most thought the Saudi side beaten but the kings of Asia for the past two seasons do not know what it means to lose. Asia's player of the year Hamad Al Montashari headed in from a    corner on 68 minutes. They then had opportunities to grab an equaliser.

"It was a good quality game, a good show for the people with a lot of goals and when there's goals it means a nice show," said Ittihad coach Anghel Iordanescu. "There were also many opportunities to score for both sides."

The Romanian felt his side had given Sao Paulo too much respect and lost the game in the opening stages.

"We didn't start the game very well. Maybe because in the mind of the players, we were playing against Sao Paulo - the team from Brazil who are the world champions," he said. "Maybe they didn't have enough confidence. But we came back into the game, scored and missed chances to lead. But we lost concentration at the start of the second half. We tried to come back and missed several chances. We just needed a little more courage."

His players were proud at the end though.

"It wasn't a one sided match," said captain Noor defiantly. "We lost our balance when they scored their second goal and then we tried to equalise. We thought we had a penalty but it was not to be."

Tcheco, who was playing against his countrymen, believed it had done teams in Asia a power of good.

"There wasn't a big difference between the sides," he said. "We closed them down and gave them a shock. We were so close but the club can be proud."

Disappointed and exhausted, Iordanescu, nevertheless, praised the addition of the competition on the international football calendar

"Asian football has improved a lot and there is a good level now in Saudi Arabia, in Japan and Korea. I think football is developing a lot and is now much more competitive," he said. "FIFA had a good idea to bring the champions from all continents together and give the chance to Asian and African teams to compete against those from South America and Europe."

Sao Paulo's goalscoring keeper Ceni agreed.

"It shows that today's teams are very much equal in standard," he ventured. "It was very nice to get the goal. It will now be recorded in history that a goalkeeper scored in such a great tournament. I'd like to contribute in the next match too."

It was left for Autouri to contemplate a final against Saprissa or Liverpool.

"English teams are well known for their aerial excellence," he replied to a reporter's question on a possible weakness on the high ball. "But Liverpool are a side that can keep the ball very well too as they proved when winning the Champions League."

The Costa Ricans, just as Ittihad did on Wednesday, still have something to say on the assumed South American-Europe final.