Ceni set to strike it third-time lucky
Sao Paulo FC's goalkeeper and captain Rogerio Ceni has a personal ambition in wanting to bring home the world crown. Speaking to FIFA.com, the team's most experienced player, who doubles up as their free kick specialist, wants to continue the undefeated record made by the heroes of the 90s, who captivated fans in Japan by twice lifting the Toyota Cup.
The thousands of local fans who will support the team in their battles in Tokyo and Yokohama are likely to include many of those who witnessed the feats of Telê Santana's side in 1992 and 1993 when Sao Paulo lifted the Toyota Cup two years in a row.
While goalkeeper Rogério Ceni was still an up-and-coming member of the squad back then, he is now the team's most experienced player and someone coach Paulo Autuori will be most relying on.
Ceni has not forgotten the support Sao Paulo were given by their hosts back in the early 90s. "It's a pleasure to be here after 12 years. We've only been here a few days but we can see how much of an improvement there is in the passion for the game," said the keeper who has scored dozens of goals from free kicks and penalties. "All but the youngest of Japanese fans will remember the Sao Paulo sides who lifted the world championship in 1992 and 1993. They love good football and will take the opportunity to lend us their support."
While the Sao Paulo side of the early 90s had a free-kick specialist in Raí, the 2005 version rely heavily on the dead-ball expertise of their keeper. "It has always been one of my strong points and I've worked very hard in training to perfect this skill," he goes on. "The ball is a bit different here to the ones we're used to in Brazil but we've intensified training sessions so we get used to the speed, quality and weight of the ball."
When Ceni was last in Japan, the tournament was a one-off match but despite the expanded programme, Sao Paulo's captain is very much in favour of the new format.
"FIFA wanted this competition for all continents," he said. "Some other countries might not have the same tradition but they have the same rights to participate as others."
With his maturity, fighting spirit and hunger for success, Rogerio Ceni is hoping to lead Sao Paulo to more success. And as well as satisfying the millions of fans back home in Brazil, lifting another trophy looks set to please thousands of admirers he and his team have built up in Japan itself.