Internazionale feeling the strain

Most clubs with fresh memories of winning a domestic double and the UEFA Champions League in the space of a couple of months would arrive at the FIFA Club World Cup overflowing with confidence. Not so F.C. Internazionale Milano, whose self-belief seemed to wane a little more with each passing week in the lead-up to their trip to Abu Dhabi.

Three days before their campaign begins, the Internazionale players are undoubtedly sure of their abilities but, crucially, uncertain how to best exploit them. “Players of this quality don’t lose their talent overnight,” explained coach Rafael Benitez, struggling to relate why the European champions have made such an unconvincing start to their Serie A title defence and failed to shine in their Champions League group. “I’ve amassed a certain experience in the big competitions, and I’ve learnt that the only approach which pays off is hard work.”

The work will begin in earnest on Wednesday against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma F.C, though the identity of the Italian club’s opponents is almost irrelevant. Despite his respect for them, Benitez has enough on his hands just worrying about his own squad. “For the moment, I’m focused on my team and that’s already a lot of work as it is,” he said, admitting he still knows little about his side’s semi-final rivals. “Like all big clubs, we can go through difficult times, but I feel at ease. I know I’ll be even calmer and more satisfied in the weeks to come.”

Victory at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010 is the minimum expected by supporters after the disappointments of recent weeks. Particularly stinging were the 3-1 reverse at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur and the 3-0 defeat by Werder Bremen in the Champions League, not to mention the damaging 3-1 Serie A setback against Lazio and the 1-0 loss to neighbours AC Milan. “There will be better days,” said defender and vice-captain Ivan Cordoba.

I’ve competed in a lot of big tournaments in my career, but when you begin a World Cup it’s like a dream.
Ivan Cordoba

“A World Cup is something special,” added the Colombian international, no doubt thinking back to his appearances at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™. “I’ve competed in a lot of big tournaments in my career, but when you begin a World Cup it’s like a dream. We don’t know if we’ll get a chance to come back, so of course there’s pressure on us to get a result. But above all we need to play with all our heart to make the most of it.”

For all their desire to enjoy the experience, a trip home awaits for Cordoba and Co if they are unable to carve out a victory. “The first match is already like a final,” said the centre-back. “We’ll have to play thinking that if we lose, it’ll be over already. There’s a certain pressure, but it’s in situations like these that great players give the best of themselves.”

Benitez will be hoping for nothing less as he sets out to avoid a second failure to win the competition, following his loss to Sao Paolo as Liverpool manager in the 2005 showpiece game. “I prefer thinking of the finals to come rather than ones in the past,” he explained. “But when you lose one, you have to tell yourself you’ll win the next. You don’t get to play a lot of finals in your career, so when you get a chance to make up for a loss, you mustn’t let it pass.”

To even bring that chance about, of course, he and his charges will need to put their troubles behind them and prevail on Wednesday.