Inter seek to maintain Brazil's proud tradition
"For us Brazilians, a world championship is the pinnacle of our careers. We're not just here to take part, we're here to win and I think we're capable of doing just that." The words of Fernandao, Internacional's talismanic captain, not only illustrate how fanatical Brazilians are about their football, but also the obligation to succeed that this passion entails. It goes without saying, therefore, that this hunger for glory applies to the FIFA Club World Cup currently being fought out in Japan.
If their own lofty expectations were not pressure enough, the Porto Alegre outfit also have the weight of history on their shoulders - the two previous editions having been won by Brazilian sides , Corinthians in 2000 and Sao Paulo in 2005. "Tournaments like this don't come around very often, which is why we've set ourselves the goal of bringing the trophy back to Brazil," stated goalkeeper Clemer. Inter will be further motivated by the fact that if they were to get their hands on the title, they would emulate city rivals Gremio, winners of the Toyota/Intercontinental Cup back in 1983.
Al Ahly blocking their way
Of course, before Inter's players and coaching staff can think about becoming world champions, there is the not inconsiderable matter of semi-final opponents Al Ahly of Egypt . The CAF champions looked very solid in their 2-0 quarter-final win over New Zealand's Auckland FC but the Brazilians remain most people's pick to make the final. "The first game is always difficult and, even though we're favourites, we respect our opponents. Nonetheless, the possibility of playing in the final against a star-studded side like Barcelona should spur us on even more to go out there and get the win," said coach Abel Braga.
Striker Pedro Iarley also recognises his side are expected to progress but, having helped Boca Juniors to victory against AC Milan in the final of the 2003 Toyota/Intercontinental, prefers to err on the side of caution. "It's logical (that we're favourites), as we've proved ourselves to be a solid, winning side, but games are won out there on the pitch, not beforehand. We have to go out there with a lot of strength and determination so as to justify our favourites' tag," says the 32-year-old front man.
Indio, one of the Inter defenders whose job it will be to keep Al Ahly's deadly duo Mohamed Aboutrika and Flavio in check, says: "There's a great responsibility that goes with wearing this shirt, and that comes across in our performances on the pitch. We know we're in for a tough game, and that our opponents are well-organised and good footballers, but I'm convinced we'll impose our rhythm on the game."
Pato, Inter's not-so secret weapon
At just 17, Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, or simply 'Pato' (the Duck), is one of Abel Braga's aces in the hole for this FIFA Club World Cup, and all the signs are that he will start against the Egyptians . With his audacious forward play and ruthless finishing, the teenager has already had copious praise lavished on him in Brazil, and it is only to be expected that the eyes of the world will be following him closely in Japan. Unsurprisingly, his coach is equally determined to protect him. "He's a young lad with bags of character. Not just anyone can come into a title-winning side and deliver. We'll be trying to take some of the pressure off him and give him the freedom to go out and play," remarked Braga.
The incredible thing is that Pato was still in the club's youth team when Inter lifted the Copa Libertadores earlier this year. Fernandao, for one, has been surprised by his progress: "He has ice pumping through his veins (laughs). In spite of everything he's had to handle this year, he just takes it all in his stride. It's important not to look at him as some kind of saviour, though. We have to remember he's still a kid and needs time to develop."
Pato has come to symbolise the new-look Inter side that was revamped after their Libertadores triumph. The departures of Bolivar, Rafael Sobis, Jorge Wagner and Tinga initially had people questioning the team's prospects ahead of Japan 2006. However, to Braga's credit, and also that of club officials who have renewed his contract for another year, the team made an almost seamless transition and pushed Sao Paulo all the way in the recent Brazilian national championship.
In this context, it is easy to understand why the Internacional players, though not wanting to belittle anyone, are brimming with confidence and happy to be one of the favourites in the Far East. Whether or not they can go all the way and maintain the proud tradition of Brazilian sides in this competition still remains to be seen…