If the mood in the SC Internacional do Porto Alegre camp was already good beforehand, it has been even better since Friday’s clash between TP Mazembe Englebert and Club de Futbol Pachuca at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium. During that quarter-final encounter, which Mazembe won 1-0 to book a last-four meeting with the Brazilians, O Colorado’s players and coaching staff were greeted by the man who presided over Inter’s triumph at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006.
Currently in charge of United Arab Emirates side Al Jazira, experienced Brazilian coach Abel Braga was delighted to encounter many of the players whom he guided to Copa Libertadores and global glory four years ago. What's more, as he told FIFA.com, Braga - who also gave his views on F.C. Internazionale Milano, T.P. Mazembe and the future of Emirati football - firmly believes his old club are in with a good chance of reclaiming the world title.
FIFA.com: Abel, what was it like meeting up with your former players at the match between TP Mazembe and Pachuca?
Abel Braga: It was emotional. It really underlined that the affection I feel for the club is reciprocal. Almost 15 of the players who’d worked with me were there, as were the directors, and that was very moving. I lived through some very good and very intense times with them.
What memories first come to mind?
Seeing Clemer over here had quite an impact, particularly because he’s now on Inter’s coaching staff (as goalkeeping coach) and I’m just a fan. Back in 2006 he was one of our most experienced players, and he played a crucial role in that final (win over Barcelona) by making a great save late on to deny Deco. That really left its mark. Indio was another of those players, because in that game he left the field with a bad head injury - the fact he played on came to symbolise our team’s guts and fighting spirit.
You assembled the core of the side which were crowned FIFA Club World Cup winners in 2006. Can you still trace your influence through to the current Internacional squad?
No, the football they play nowadays is quite different. That team worked really well as a unit, they were very tactically astute and had a blend of youth and experience. But the current side are even more experienced, more aggressive and have a better footballing dynamic than their predecessors. That’s why you can’t compare the two.
Going on what you saw in 10 December’s quarter-final, do you think TP Mazembe will prove difficult semi-final opponents?
The fact is I couldn’t understand the way Pachuca approached the game. They looked like they were playing a training match and you can’t play like that against African teams. It was a deserved victory from a team that showed character. On the other hand, however, Mazembe were lacking in tactical terms and that could prove decisive.
How do you rate Internacional’s chances of success this year compared to the start of Japan 2006?
They’re in with a better chance because in 2006 nobody believed in us. Barcelona were a great team, they swatted (Mexican side) America aside as if it were a practice match. But we studied their playing style, we neutralised some of their key individuals and we also posed an attacking threat ourselves. The thing is that Internazionale [Milano] are not Barcelona and so won’t be overwhelming favourites, even though they are the heavyweight club in this tournament thanks to the players they have. If we assume that the two favourites progress, and from what I’ve seen so far only a disaster will stop that happening, I think that this year’s Internacional are better prepared. The Italian club, for their part, have great players but not a great team. And when they watch the other semi-final, they’ll realise that they won’t have things all their own way.
Finally, can you tell us about your lengthy spell in Emirati football, your club Al Jazira and your future plans?
My contract runs out in May and I want to go back to Brazil. I’ve been here for three years and the first of them was marvellous, as my family were here. Now my children have gone back home and my wife divides her time between the two countries, which makes things more difficult. But I’m happy, it’s an excellent country and I’m treated very well. As far as football here is concerned, I feel like I’ve achieved the goals I set: unearthing good players and helping them break into the national team. My side have been doing well for the last two and a half years and we’ve lost just three competitive games during that period. The only thing we’re lacking is the league title (Editor’s note: Al Jazira have finished second for the last three seasons). But when I leave, I’ll go with a clear conscience because I know we’ve changed the way they play football over here. That’s thanks to Al Jazira, because we’ve played a more exuberant brand of football. We’re going to leave a good legacy and I’m certain it won’t be long until the country is on a par with others like Iran or Saudi Arabia.