Such is the drive of Celso Roth that, even in the midst of the celebrations that followed Internacional’s second Copa Libertadores triumph in August, the respected coach was already eyeing yet another title. “Inter haven’t won the Brazilian national championship since 1979, so that’s what we’re going to work towards,” said Roth, in a gesture some felt was wishful thinking, given the club’s mid-table position and the accumulated fatigue of their gruelling Libertadores campaign.
Indeed, just four days after the 3-2 second-leg win over Mexican side Guadalajara at the Beira-Rio stadium, which clinched the continental crown 5-3 on aggregate, a draw against then Brasileirao bottom side Atletico-GO left O Colorado even further behind the pace-setters. Yet despite the impression that the players were already letting their minds wander to December’s FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010, Roth’s men went on to win six of their next ten league games – including 26 September’s dramatic 3-2 win over leaders Corinthians. Inter are now just seven points behind frontrunners Fluminense, who overtook O Timão at the weekend, and have 14 games remaining compared to Flu’s 13.
Moreover, their recent fine form has imbued the players with the belief they can pull off a historic feat: going into UAE 2010 as champions of both Brazil and South America. “We’d lost touch with the leaders but we’ve since beaten big teams and are now in with a real chance of challenging for the championship,” said keeper Renan in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “We want the title so we can go into the Club World Cup as national champions and Libertadores holders. It’d be a great calling card and something that’s never been achieved before.”
Indeed, Inter are the Brazilian outfit to have gone closest to this remarkable double, when they lifted the 2006 Libertadores and finished second in the domestic league prior to victory at that year’s FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. On the ten other occasions teams from Brazil have won Latin America’s biggest club prize – excluding Santos’ 1962 and 1963 wins when the Brazilian championship was yet to officially exist – only Sao Paulo in 1993 were also able to finish in the top four domestically.
Abu Dhabi looming large
Despite UAE 2010 being just months away, the Porto Alegre outfit’s run of results and push for Brasileirao glory means players and coaches have been unwilling to comment at length on their forthcoming Emirati adventure. And though Renan was quick to state that “it’s still too soon to be thinking about the Club World Cup”, the 25-year-old did allow himself to be drawn on his hopes for the tournament and his desire to meet UEFA Champions League winners Inter Milan in the final.
“When you talk about the Club World Cup you almost automatically think of finals between European and South American teams, which historically has been how it’s turned out,” said Renan, who at Japan 2006 played second-fiddle to O Colorado’s then No1 Clemer. “Of course, we have to concentrate on our opening game first, but a final against Inter [Milan] would add even more lustre should we win the trophy again.”
The keeper also feels that his team’s 2-1 victory over their Italian counterparts in the final of the 2008 Dubai Cup, secured with an overhead kick by Brazilian international Nilmar, could work in their favour. “We’ve already beaten them, so having that positive experience to look back on could give us even more confidence.”
The gifted shotstopper, on loan at Inter from Spanish side Valencia, believes that Brasileirao glory would boost morale further ahead of a potential clash with Rafa Benitez’s Nerazzurri, who last season claimed a fifth consecutive Serie A title to go with their Champions League crown. “We’re one of the most successful clubs in South America, who have featured in more decisive encounters than any other side in recent years,” said Renan. “We’re used to having good campaigns and we know how to go far in competitions. We also have a huge desire to win major trophies. That’s something that works in our favour at key moments.”
Sao Paulo slip-up
On a personal note, Renan admits that he is still haunted by his gaffe against semi-final opponents Sao Paulo in this year’s Libertadores - an error which gifted a goal to O Tricolor Paulista’s Alex Silva. “That hit me hard because it was in the Libertadores and there were high expectations surrounding my return to the club.”
“I’d been on holiday before joining up with the team and that came in only my fourth game. (Given the circumstances) I think something like that is quite normal,” said the player on the mistake which levelled a tie Inter eventually edged on away goals. “It’s hard to take at the time, but you try and put it behind you and think about the next attack. The team held firm though and fortunately were able to battle back. I think that I still come off as a winner.”
Renan’s previous spell at Inter would back that up, as does his impressive record at youth national team level for Brazil. Part of the Seleção side that won bronze at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, the keeper is determined to press his claim for a place in the senior squad, having dropped out of the frame after two testing seasons with Valencia that included a loan spell at Xerez.
“There’s no point getting called up now and not staying involved. That’s why I want to set my sights on the most important event of this period (for A Seleção), which is the World Cup,” said Renan on the prospect of appearing at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. He then brought the interview to a close with his individual recipe for success with club and country. “I’ve got to keep working hard here and stay focused on winning titles like the Brasileirao and the Club World Cup. One day my chance will come.”