Barely a major final has been played in the last few years without Spanish players taking to the field, and Sunday’s showpiece match in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012 will be no exception. Running out for Rafael Benitez’s Chelsea against Corinthians of Brazil will be the Iberian trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, who have all had a big hand in getting them there.
Less than a month after taking up his post, coach Benitez has already begun to impose his style on a side in which he has a compatriot in every department. “Rafa’s arrival has given us the intensity we’ve been lacking so many times this season,” said an appreciative Torres, who worked under the coach at Liverpool. “We have a lot of talented players who need tactical discipline too, and we’re working on that with Benitez: how to move as a team and defend and attack as one.”
The scorer of the Blues’ second goal in their 3-1 defeat of Monterrey, the relaxed Torres is proud of his side’s recent form and everything Spanish football has achieved of late: “We’ve been lucky enough to form part of a great generation of Spanish players. We’ve won two European Championships, the World Cup in South Africa and the Champions League. It’s a pleasure to be enjoying all of this with Chelsea and the national team, and I hope this final is not the last.”
By his side is the smiling Juan Mata. The midfielder, who struck Chelsea’s first ever FIFA Club World Cup goal to set them on the road to victory against the Mexicans, echoed the words of his fellow countryman and pointed to the special ties that bind them on the pitch and off it, where they often get together of an evening to eat ham and other Spanish fare.
As they explain, the tradition began when they were team-mates in the national side and has continued in London, where they round off every pre-match meal with a cup of drinking chocolate and some Spanish buns, just to make them feel that little bit closer to home.
“I feel more comfortable with them than anyone and it’s natural we should spend more time together,” said Mata, who is aiming to collect another winner’s medal in the next few days. “I want to repeat here in Japan the things I’ve achieved with the national side. It would be unique to be Club World Cup champions and I’d love to wear that badge on the shirt too.”
The final hurdle
Proud as they are to be Spanish, Torres and Mata’s main objective on Sunday is to take their English club to the pinnacle of international club football. To do that, they will need to see off Brazil’s Corinthians, a side that watched Chelsea in action at the International Stadium Yokohama on Wednesday.
“They were here to see us, obviously,” said the former Valencia man with a grin on his face. “They’re one of the best sides in South America, and with players like [Paolo] Guerrero they can score at any time. I’ve no idea what they thought of us, whether they think we’re good or bad, but the important thing will be to beat them on Sunday.”
For his part, Torres believes the Brazilians will not have seen anything they did not already know: “I don’t think it’s the first time they will have watched us. I’m sure they’ll have seen our last few games and they’ll know what Chelsea are about since Rafa came in: a well-knit team that’s a threat up front and which has improved at the back.”
As for the quality of their opponents on Sunday, El Niño Torres admitted that he and his team-mates were a little taken aback by what they have seen of them: “They surprised us all with their tactical appreciation. They set themselves up really well after scoring against Al-Ahly and didn’t have any problems.”
Does that mean to say the South Americans might take the Londoners by surprise on Sunday? “I don’t think so,” came the answer. “We’ve got four Brazilians in the team and they’ve told us about them. I’m sure we’ll see a very even game, with both sides in with an equal chance.”
Having featured in so many important finals of late, Torres certainly knows what he is talking about.