Colorado confident ahead of climax
It was a performance that would have consumed most opponents-in-waiting with fear, Barcelona emphatically brushing aside Mexican challengers America to reach the FIFA Club World Cup Final. In front of a captivated audience, the European champions performed to their spectacular best, overwhelming their valiant adversaries and running out 4-0 winners in Yokohama, where they will return to face South American champions Internacional on Sunday.
But after such a thrilling exhibition of class, do Abel Braga's charges genuinely believe that they can live with the irresistible force that is Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona? Unsurprisingly for a team riding high on their own wave of confidence, the answer is an unequivocal 'yes'.
"We have what it takes to defeat Barcelona," insisted current Internacional president Fernando Carvalho. "We must have confidence; belief in our work and our players. Barcelona have a great side but we are ready for them. We've created the belief that we can win this title," he concluded.
Abel Braga, the coach who has been tasked with masterminding a reverse of the UEFA Champions League holders, was impressed - if not surprised - by the Blaugrana's semi-final victory, but shares Carvalho's optimism ahead of the Final; "Obviously Barcelona have a great side. They play passing football the whole time in the direction of their opponents' goal. But we won't afford them as much room as America did - our marking will be much stronger," he assured. "It will be the biggest game in Internacional's history but we will enter the field with confidence. As well as having individual talent, this squad has a very strong spirit."
Internacional have first-hand experience of what Ronaldinho is capable of. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year is, of course, a product of their arch-rivals Gremio, and in the deciding match of the 1999 Campeonato Gaucho, the then 19-year-old delivered a heroic performance to spur his side to glory.
In fact, the Colorado management had identified Ronaldinho as the chief threat to their title hopes, and consequently assigned veteran midfield enforcer Dunga to mark him. However, the 1994 FIFA World Cup-winning captain found the flamboyant playmaker unmanageable, his match-winning goal capping an exhilarating individual display - and clinched Gremio the title.
Nevertheless, Ronaldinho is taking nothing for granted ahead of the Japan 2006 showpiece; "I don't feel as though I'm Internacional's nemesis. I always played well in Gre-Nal derbies, but they are all in the past. Today I play for Barcelona and I will compete against Inter as I would against any other team." Continuing, the Porto Alegre native rejected Barcelona's favourites' tag; "It will be a very tough game. Inter have some excellent players and are in great shape physically."
Brazil and Spain face off again
Sunday's Final will pit Brazil against Spain for the third time in club football's global decider, and encouragingly for Internacional, Barcelona have already experienced defeat at the hands of a Brazilian adversary.
Indeed, in the 1992 Toyota Cup, the Catalans were defeated by Sao Paulo, coincidentally the team that Abel Braga's troops overcame to book their place at the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup. Moreover, Barcelona's side included foreign superstars, such as Dutchman Ronald Koeman, Dane Michael Laudrup and Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov, just as it will on Sunday, whereas Sao Paulo relied upon home-grown talent to propel them to glory.
The two nations were drawn together again in the Toyota Cup six years later, this time Real Madrid restoring parity for Spain with a hard-fought victory over Vasco. The only remaining confrontation between Brazilian and Spanish teams occurred in the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup Brazil 2000, when eventual champions Corinthians contested an animated 2-2 with Real Madrid in Group A.
While the Copa Libertadores champions will have their work cut out attempting to keep the likes of Deco, Ronaldinho, and Ludovic Giuly quiet, Frank Rijkaard is well aware that Internacional also possess a number of potential match winners. Iarley, who helped Boca Juniors beat AC Milan to lift the 2003 Toyota Cup, has been in a rich vein of form throughout 2006, as has his infallible sidekick Fernandao. Perhaps the player that Barcelona will be must concerned about, however, is Alexandre Pato - and if the 17-year-old manages to inspire a FIFA Club World Cup conquest on only his third professional appearance, it will surely go down as the mother of all footballing baptisms.