In respectively winning the UEFA Champions League, Copa Libertadores, J-League and AFC Champions League, Chelsea, Corinthians, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Ulsan Hyundai have perhaps set a precedent for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012 they are set to grace over the next few days.
The quartet all won those competitions for the very first time, achieving triumphs their fans never dared hope for and perhaps paving the way for a team outside South America and Europe to end the domination of the two continents in the global club competition.
The FIFA Club World Cup has been staged on eight occasions to date, with South Americans clubs walking away with the trophy in the first three editions: Corinthians in 2000, Sao Paulo in 2005 and Internacional a year later. Since then, it has been all Europe. AC Milan took the title in 2007, followed by Manchester United in 2008, with Inter Milan’s 2010 success being sandwiched between Barcelona’s two wins in the competition. What’s more, European and South American teams have disputed the final on all but one occasion.
The rest of the world is anxious to end all that, however, as Monterrey’s experienced Argentinian forward Cesar Delgado explained to FIFA.com: “It’s something we’re all looking forward to. We want to excel in this tournament. We know how important it is and that the big teams will be there, and our number-one objective is to get to the final and win it.”
Two years ago Africa’s TP Mazembe became the first non-South American or European side to reach a FIFA Club World Cup final when they beat Internacional of Brazil 2-0 in the semis. In doing so, the men from Congo DR set an example for this year’s outsiders to follow.
“We’ll be trying to go where no other CONCACAF team has gone before,” added Delgado, who is not lacking in motivation after appearing in the Monterrey side knocked out of last year’s competition by Kashiwa Reysol. “That’s our main goal and we hope to reach it. We want to make a name for ourselves in the tournament, which is so important.”
Speaking of their exit in 2011, he said: “We could have won, but we didn’t take our chances in front of goal. It was a fantastic experience, even if we did come up short. This time around we hope to make it to the final and get the win.”
Monterrey’s opponents in the quarter-finals next Sunday are Ulsan, who will not be lacking in confidence either. The South Koreans won their first Asian crown at the third attempt and though they are FIFA Club World Cup debutants, the East Asians are not going to Japan to make up the numbers, as their Brazilian front man Rafinha confirmed.
“People think Korean football is not that strong, but they’ve got it all wrong,” he said in an interview with the website UOL Esporte. “We’ve got an experienced side featuring several internationals and we’re aiming for the title. We’re not going there just to play. We’re not just any old team.”
While Rafinha is expecting a test from Monterrey, he cannot resist looking forward to a potential semi-final against Chelsea: “I was talking about it with Maranhao, my Brazilian team-mate here at Ulsan. Of all the teams we could come up against, Chelsea are the easiest. Like us, they’re physically very strong and it could be a stop-start game. On the pitch there’s little to choose between us.”
The Brazilian is not the only player eying a meeting with the Londoners on the big stage. Sanfrecce Hiroshima defender Ryota Moriwaki has his sights set on the Blues too: “I’d love to play Chelsea here. It would be great to play our very best football against them and show fans around the world just how well Sanfrecce can play.”
Auckland City’s stalwart Spanish forward Manel Exposito has a similar objective in mind, as he told FIFA.com: “You dream about playing teams like Chelsea and Barcelona, who were here last year.”
Exposito, who began his professional career at Barcelona alongside Lionel Messi, is one man who is not getting carried away. Choosing instead to go one step at a time, he said: “To be honest, we have to be realistic and focus on our opening game. Right now our only concern is winning that match.”