Back in 2008 the mighty Corinthians found themselves in the ignominious position of having to play second division football. Four years on, they have completed their return from the wilderness by winning the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012, a dramatic turnaround that also ended a five-year run of success for European clubs in the competition and brought the world title back to Brazil and South America for the first time since 2006.
Corinthians’ success recalls the early days of the competition, with Brazilian sides prevailing in the first three editions, among them O Timão, the winners of the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup. All that changed in 2007, when AC Milan initiated a spell of European domination that was continued by Manchester United, Inter Milan and Barcelona, who won it twice, a record now matched by Tite’s Alvinegros.
Their triumph was founded on tactical organisation and the physical prowess and sheer commitment of an experienced group of players, though it is hard to envisage the side having enjoyed all their recent success without the breathtaking support of their loyal fans. The Timão faithful, who rightly describe themselves as a “gang of fanatics”, launched another of the invasions they have become famous for, descending on Japan in their thousands and creating an amazing spectacle.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Corinthians goalkeeper Cassio, who collected the adidas Golden Ball ahead of Chelsea’s David Luiz and O Timão’s goal hero Paolo Guerrero, praised their diehard followers: “We are so grateful to these fans. They’ve been like this all year in Brazil, in every one of our games. It’s fantastic. They always turn up and you never hear them booing or criticising at all. They’re always there to back the team.”
Losing finalists Chelsea FC had arrived in Japan determined to atone for their early UEFA Champions League exit, but had no answer to Corinthians’ application and workrate. As their comprehensive semi-final defeat of Monterrey showed, however, the Londoners have more than enough talent to turn their season around.
The rest of the field
Cesar Delgado’s one-man show for Club de Futbol Monterrey against Ulsan Hyundai entertained the crowd in Toyota City and also kept an unusual record going. For the fifth FIFA Club World Cup in a row an Argentinian player scored two goals in one game, Delgado continuing a sequence begun by Christian Gimenez of Pachuca in 2008 and extended by Leandro Benitez of Estudiantes in 2009, Dario Cvitanich of Pachuca in 2010, and Lionel Messi of Barcelona in 2011.
Delgado had a big hand in the Mexicans winning two of their three games and snatching third place from Al-Ahly SC, who were making their fourth appearance since 2005. The Egyptians have now played a record nine FIFA Club World Cup matches, with the vastly experienced trio of Mohamed Aboutrika, Hossam Ashour and Wael Gomaa having played in all of those games.
Cheered on by their vociferous support, surprise Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima were rewarded for their forward-thinking youth policy with two encouraging wins. After opening up with a 1-0 defeat of Auckland City FC in the quarter-final play-off, the home side were edged out by Al-Ahly in a tough quarter-final before recovering to take fifth place from Ulsan Hyundai in a five-goal Asian derby. The star of their show was captain Hisato Sato, who struck three goals to end the tournament as top scorer, while Toshihiro Aoyama scored the 200th goal in the competition’s history.
The South Koreans were unable to replicate the form that took them to their first AFC Champions League title and lost both their games. Finally, Auckland City can take consolation from two notable statistics: the New Zealanders are the first side along with Al-Ahly to make four appearances in the competition, while their striker Daniel Koprivcic is out on his own as the only man to play in five FIFA Club World Cups.