Europe and South America do battle
So it will, after all, be Europe against South America, the UEFA Champions League winners versus the Copa Libertadores holders. The semi-final hurdles put up by Deportivo Saprissa and Al Ittihad, respectively, have been safely vaulted and the 70,000-capacity Yokohama International stadium awaits the grand final featuring Liverpool and Sao Paulo.
Honours have largely been even over the 45-year history of the duel between the two continents. In the Toyota Cup, the successor to the Intercontinental Cup and the forerunner to the present FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005, Liverpool have participated twice and lost twice, to Brazil's Flamengo in 1981 and Argentina's Independiente in 1984. Sao Paulo, on the other hand, have won two out of two, back-to-back wins in 1992 and 1993 over Barcelona and AC Milan.
This time, though, the Europeans will start as strong favourites to win the only title to have eluded them in their 108-year history. The English side go into the final in stunning form. They have won their last eight matches and have not conceded a goal for a club record 11 straight matches. Second in the Premier League, a Round of 16 clash with Benfica in the UEFA Champions League awaiting and, on Thursday, they dismantled a Deportivo Saprissa side with ease, running out 3-0 winners in the FIFA Club World Championship semi-final despite arriving in Japan just a few days before.
Sao Paulo have been preparing for this tournament for quite some time. After finishing a disappointing 11th place in the Brazilian league, they arrived a week ahead of their first game in order to acclimatise. That initial fixture though did not exactly go according to plan with Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad proving to be a difficult nut to crack. It ended up 3-2 but Liverpool's Spanish coach Rafa Benitez was in Tokyo scribbling furiously on his pad each time the Brazilian defence was prised open.
"We're going to have to improve certain aspects of our play if we want to win the final because Sao Paulo are a great team with very gifted players," he said nevertheless. "There have been some very good games that have shown that the differences in world football are no longer so marked. I really enjoyed the game between Al Ittihad and Sao Paulo."
Benitez, whose father passed away this week, will take his place on the bench on 18 December determined to lead his side to another trophy.
"We are playing with confidence and strength. I think we can beat anyone," he added. "I want to win games and win trophies."
Two metres up
While Benitez will be pleased that his new signing Pepe Reina is keeping clean sheets at one end, he will be delighted that striker Peter Crouch has started to bang in the goals at the other.
His two strikes against Saprissa added to his first for the club against Middlesbrough at the weekend.
"Peter is a key player for us because he has so much to offer: he can score goals, create chances," praised the coach. "He's a great lad, a good footballer and an excellent professional, we're delighted with him."
The lanky two-metre forward was the focus of press attention after his well taken double.
"I was thrilled to score the two goals, but now we need to focus on the task ahead and win this competition," said Crouch. "We've not travelled all the way to Japan to go sightseeing."
It is a refreshing attitude and Liverpool, with the extra days to get rid of the last vestiges of jet lag, will head into the final at full strength.
The fight for the world club crown has long been the ultimate trophy for South American sides. The chance to defeat the cash-rich clubs from Europe's top leagues is a natural motivator. Sao Paulo coach Paulo Autouri even admitted to resting players in the run up to the competition.
"Everyone knows how prestigious this competition is and what it would mean to win it," he says. "We are aware of our responsibilities, but we're not letting the pressure get to us. It is an honour to represent Brazil and South America and the players realise this. We must be mature."
Despite conceding a goal from a corner in the semi-finals, Autuori said he was not worried about his opponents' ability in the air.
"English teams are well known for their aerial excellence," he said. "But Liverpool are a side that can keep the ball very well too as they proved when winning the Champions League."
The good news for the coach was the form of veteran striker Amoroso, who hit the first two goals against Ittihad. His dilemma will be whether to stick with Aloisio up front or opt to start with striker Grafite, who is just returning from injury.
Goalkeeper Ceni, who scored Sao Paulo's third against Ittihad from the penalty spot, was sure of his plans.
"It was very nice to get the goal," he said. "It will now be recorded in history that a goalkeeper scored in such a great tournament. I'd like to contribute in the final too."
A large following of Liverpool fans have travelled with the team while Sao Paulo can count on a sizeable Brazilian community in Japan for support. On Sunday, it will be miles away though where most of the celebrating will be done - in Europe or South America…