Mighty Reds meet the Purple Monster
Liverpool make their debut in the competition on Thursday against Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa in Yokohama with high hopes of claiming the only title in the game to have eluded them in their 113-year history. The European champions' form as they enter the semi-final could not be better. They landed in Japan on the back of seven straight wins in the English Premier league and have not conceded a goal in their last 10 matches.
The winning run has their coach Rafael Benitez and captain Steven Gerrard in festive mood ahead of the pre-Christmas competition.
"This is a very big tournament and we are going to try and do our best to win it," the Spaniard told FIFA.com. "It deserves to be a big tournament with extremely tough qualification. Whoever wins will be worthy champions."
Liverpool's attitude has been refreshingly positive. Benitez views the trip to the Far East has another opportunity to bring home a prestigious trophy and to boost confidence.
"It's a challenge. I want to win games and win trophies," he said. "We will be going with a strong team, with confidence and strength. I think we can beat anyone."
After their incredible comeback in the second half of the Champions League final against AC Milan, belief is not something Liverpool should be short of. Gerrard, who penned a new contract for the Reds in the summer, has been in devastating form of late. After the experience of Istanbul, he is itching to get his hands on another trophy.
"I'm so hungry to be successful at this tournament," added the Englishman. "Winning football matches is a great habit to get into. Our form of late has been really good and we want to go to Japan and win two more matches. A lot of people are speaking about fatigue and are worried about the number of matches we're playing, but if you are winning those matches, it helps."
In the final four, Liverpool will meet Deportivo Saprissa, who narrowly defeated Sydney 1-0 in the quarter-finals on Monday.
The Costa Ricans have shrugged off that slightly disappointing opening performance to focus squarely on the duel with the UEFA Champions League winners. After swapping Toyota City for Yokohama, they had two training sessions on the eve of the game.
"Our motivation could not be higher, everything is ready," their coach Hernan Medford said after putting his team through their final paces. "There's a great atmosphere in the camp to face Liverpool."
After defeating an Australia side barely a year old, the Purple Monster take on a team that have won a record number of English championships as well as five triumphs in Europe's top club competition.
"We are playing against a side with one of the greatest pedigrees in Europe," added the former Tico striker. "They play with a lot of power and energy, while our game is more one of technique and touch. We'll give it everything and may the best side win. I know a lot of fans back home are cheering us on and I hope it's a great game to watch."
Central defender Ronald Gomez has played in many games but he is in no doubt which is the most important.
"The game against the Reds is the biggest game of our lives. It's an honour to play against the champions of Europe," the 35-year-old told FIFA.com. "They have so many international stars, I don't know who I will be up against. It could be Fernando Morientes, a matchwinner, or Peter Crouch, who is virtually two metres tall."
Saprissa, of course, have no international players to call upon. Their policy is only to recruit Costa Ricans, a philosophy that has stood them well. Sometimes known as the other national team, the side from San Jose have a pretty good track record too, winning 23 league titles and emerging victorious over the years from a number of bruising continental battles, chiefly against Mexican sides.
They will also take heart from the fighting performance put up by Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad in the other semi-final against Sao Paulo of Brazil.
The way events are shaping up in the tournament, Thursday's match may well be a close run thing.