Internacional make it big in Japan
Brazilian football notched up another major achievement when
SC Internacional of Porto Alegre overcame Spain's FC Barcelona
to win the FIFA World Club Cup Japan 2006. In the process, Inter
became the third Brazilian side to taste success in the competition
after Corinthians in 2000 and Sao Paulo in 2005.
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Both sides began the game as if determined to put on a feast of attacking football. In an entertaining end-to-end start to the match every Barcelona attack was followed by an equally menacing Inter response. Yet, as the minutes passed it was the European champions who gradually began to dictate the pace.
Expecting just such a turn of events, Inter's wily coach Abel Braga had devised tactics for a match within a match. In possession, Inter played a precise passing game designed to provide the strike duo of Iarley and Alexandre Pato, who switched positions continually, and the deep-lying Fernandao with the bullets they needed to unsettle the Catalan defence. Whenever possession was conceded, though, Inter's forwards pressed hard up front, while the midfield attempted to cut off Barcelona's passing options. At the back, Braga's men adopted a zonal rather than man-to-man marking strategy. The results, at least in the early stages of the game, were not altogether unsuccessful.
But even the best-laid plans can come unstuck against the irrepressible Blaugrana machine. Whenever the scheming Deco and the persistent Ronaldinho clicked, Barca looked genuinely threatening. Although Pato managed to conjure up a couple of openings in the first quarter of an hour, it was the tournament favourites who were creating the clearest chances.
Colorado defender Indio had to be on his guard in turning a fizzing low Gianluca Zambrotta cross out for a corner with Eidur Gudjohnsen lurking in wait behind him. Clemer then pulled off a fine double save to deny Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and then Ronaldinho from the rebound. Shortly afterwards Deco played in Giuly on the right and the Frenchman's cross was met by Gudjohnsen, who spurned the chance. The Icelandic forward tried his luck again a little later but saw his drive from the left side of the area fly over the bar. Ronaldinho was next to step up to the plate but after shooting wide when well-placed, he curled a free-kick into the grateful Clemer's arms.
By now Inter were content to play a counter-attacking game, but the well-drilled Barca rearguard was quick to snuff out any danger when it arose. The Gauchos did enjoy the last chance of the half though when Indio passed up a good opportunity after combining to good effect with Wellington Monteiro.
Tactical changes at half-time
The changes made by both coaches at the break reflected the pattern of the game in the first 45 minutes. While Braga brought on defensive midfielder Fabian Vargas for the more attack-minded Alex, Frank Rijkaard withdrew Zambrotta in favour of Belletti in an attempt to increase Barca's attacking options down the right flank.
With the Spaniards continuing to control possession, Fernandao dropped back to lend a hand in midfield as Inter opted to string two lines of four across the pitch, leaving their front men increasingly isolated. Luiz Adriano's introduction in place of Pato seemed to give the Brazilians a new lease of life even if the game was more reminiscent of a chess match than the feast of attacking football it had promised to be.
Rijkaard shuffled his pack by bring on Xavi, and the Spanish international soon made his presence felt by getting into threatening forward positions. Braga responded with another defensive change as Fernandao made way for midfield man Adriano. Inter's hopes of victory now seemed to rest on an isolated break and their cautious tactics paid off with eight minutes left as Iarley deceived Puyol in the middle of the field before playing in Adriano, who poked the ball past the onrushing Valdes.
Barcelona had no option but to throw everything forward. Clemer denied Gudjohnsen what looked like a certain equaliser and then, three minutes from time, Ronaldinho shaved his compatriot's right-hand post with an arcing free-kick. As the minutes ticked agonisingly by, the Brazilians skilfully kept hold of possession in the dying stages. When it eventually came, the final whistle was met with jubilant celebrations by the men in white, who against all the odds had crowned themselves champions of the world.