The match pitting the clubs representing South America and Africa against each other in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012 is not just a battle of continental champions. It is also an encounter between two squads that are settled, well-drilled and tactically sound, with both Brazil’s Corinthians and Al-Ahly SC of Egypt touching down on Japanese soil with groups of players that have been together some time.
Al-Ahly-Corinthians, Toyota Stadium
Wednesday 12 December, 19.30 (local time)
After 12 years away, Corinthians are back on the FIFA Club World Cup stage aiming to win the global showpiece for a second time. Victory for the 2000 world champions would add further lustre to a spectacular two years, which have featured triumph in the 2011 Brasileiro championship and the 2012 Copa Libertadores.
Dominant winners of the latter tournament, O Timão went through the entire competition unbeaten, conceding just four times in the process. But will they be able to reproduce that kind of steely display against continental giants from across Planet Football?
The first obstacle blocking the path of Tite’s charges are Al-Ahly who, with members of the Corintiana delegation looking on, reached the semi-finals thanks to a 2-1 last-eight success against Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The Egyptian outfit are appearing at their fourth FIFA Club World Cup and showed neat touches aplenty going forward, though their Japanese opponents – 1-0 winners over Auckland City in their opener – did make them look vulnerable at the back on occasion.
Two players that symbolise the level of stability in the two squads are Corinthians’ defender Chicao and the Red Devils’ iconic attacker Mohamed Aboutrika, who have been at their respective clubs since 2008 and 2004.
8 – Al-Ahly’s match against Sanfrecce was their eighth at a FIFA Club World Cup, a competition record. The CAF Champions League winners are now guaranteed to take that tally to ten before leaving Japan, whatever the result of Wednesday’s semi-final.
“I don’t think that past results determine who the favourites are. What decides that is the strength of each team, over the 90 minutes of their semi-final. But a team’s experience does have an impact, and so does the quality of the players. We’re very aware of that fact. We know what our strengths are, but I don’t believe we’re the favourites. I believe in the players’ ability to prepare well for this game,” Corinthians coach, Tite.
“I’ve not had much time yet to really study Corinthians, but my team put in a really good performance against Sanfrecce and we’ve now got to turn our focus to the Brazilian side. We’re in a special situation and I’m sure every Egyptian is pleased with our opening result. The Egyptian people have made many sacrifices,” Al-Ahly coach, Hossam El Badry.