Asian champions Gamba Osaka are set to go head-to-head with European counterparts Manchester United in Yokohama in the eagerly anticipated second semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008. Local heroes Gamba edged out Adelaide United 1-0 in the quarter-finals to set up a dream clash against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co.
After their UEFA Champions League triumph in May, Manchester United now want to prove that they are the best team in the world and not just Europe. Standing in their way are a Gamba Osaka side able to count on the wholehearted support of the Japanese fans packing the International Stadium.
A good omen for United is that one of the semi-finals at last year's FIFA Club World Cup also saw a showdown between a European and a Japanese side, with AC Milan defeating Urawa Red Diamonds 1-0 before going on to win the final.
3 - The current Manchester United squad contains three players who took part in the 1999 Toyota Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo, namely Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, while long-serving current manager Sir Alex Ferguson was also at the helm. The Red Devils took the coveted trophy thanks to a 1-0 win over Palmeiras.
A win over Gamba would be the perfect early gift for Sir Alex, who celebrates his 67th birthday on 31 December.
"We need to be compact and keep our shape, otherwise we'll stand no chance against Manchester United. They have world-class footballers in their ranks, but we want to show them what Gamba Osaka are capable of. We're going into the match full of confidence. It's my birthday on 20 December, and it would be a wonderful present for me if we ended up playing the final the following day," Michihiro Yasuda, Gamba Osaka wide player.
"Endo is Gamba's star player, but Lucas is also a very good player. I will hopefully pick the right formation to go out and win this match and qualify for the final. It is always tough when you have so many good players at your disposal. It won't be an easy task for us, but we'll hopefully get through. It should be a very interesting match," Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager.