Sao Paulo make the final – but only just
Sao Paulo made it through to the final of the FIFA Club World Championship Toyota Cup Japan 2005 after a hard-fought 3-2 win over Al Ittihad at Tokyo's National Stadium this Wednesday. The Brazilians were given a tougher ride than many expected by the Asian champions, who took the initiative for much of the game and caused more than a few nervous moments in the Sao Paulo defence with their pacy strikers. In the end, however, a brace from Amoroso and a converted penalty from Ceni were enough to move the Tricolores one step closer to their third world title.
Sao Paulo signalled their intent as early as the 8th minute, when Cicinho fired in a cross shot from the right-hand corner of the area that almost found his strike partner Aloisio. Moments later Aloisio turned provider picking out Lugano in the box with a 40-yard pass, only for the Uruguayan defender to head wide.
Though the early chances were few and far between, a predator of the calibre of Amoroso rarely needs more than one opportunity. This duly arrived on 15 minutes after a poor clearance by the Al Ittihad defence. Taking the ball on his chest without letting it touch the deck, the striker volleyed the ball goalwards. Unfortunately for Al Ittihad, their keeper Zaid could only watch helplessly as the ball took a deflection off one of his defenders and flew into the net (0-1,16').
But the goal failed to knock Anghel Iordanescu's side out of their stride, and they continued to keep their shape and composure. They looked to be gambling on Sao Paulo, who went with an attack-minded 3-4-3 formation, leaving gaps at the back as they pushed up. Al Ittihad continued to float long balls in behind the Brazilian defence for the lightning fast front men to run onto, a tactic that had Sao Paulo's defence stretched on more than one occasion.
The AFC champions doggedly persisted with the tactic and were finally rewarded on the half-hour mark when Kallon got in behind the Sao Paulo defence and bore down on goal. Although Ceni did well to parry the ex-Inter Milan player's drive, the loose ball fell to Noor, who made no mistake (1-1, 33'). The Paulista keeper enjoyed better luck moments later when denying Kallon from point-blank range.
With the Copa Libertadores champions swaying on the ropes, coach Autuori was forced to work the oracle at half-time, and it was a more purposeful Brazilian side that emerged after the break. Indeed, two minutes was all it took for them to retake the lead. Neither Zaid nor his defence could cope with a measured Cicinho ball in the six-yard box, leaving Amoroso to prod home from close range (1-2, 47').
With their side a goal to the good again, the sizeable contingent of Paulista fans at Tokyo's National Stadium duly made their presence felt. The decibel level edged up even higher when Ceni clipped a trademark free-kick just over the bar from the edge of the area. The extrovert goalkeeper was not to be denied, however, and converted from the penalty spot moments later after Aloisio was upended in the box (1-3, 57').
Undeterred, Al Ittihad stuck to their game plan and continued to carve out chances. The underdogs gave themselves hope when defender Hamad Al Montashari popped up unchallenged at the far post to nod home Tcheco's corner kick (2-3, 68').
Aloisio then spurned the chance to restore Sao Paulo's two-goal advantage when he wastefully headed wide from Danilo's pinpoint cross. The Saudi Arabian giants almost pulled off a miraculous recovery when Noor just failed to get on the end of Mohammed Haid's cross in the six-yard box. Cicinho could have wrapped it all up in the final minute but opted to pass to Grafite instead, and the chance was lost. Not that it mattered. Sao Paulo had already done enough to book their place in Sunday's final.