Al Ittihad and Deportivo Saprissa vie for consolation prize
After the bitter disappointment of their semi-final defeats, Al Ittihad and Deportivo Saprissa meet at Yokohama's International Stadium this Sunday to fight it out for third place at the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005.
Al Ittihad go into the game with renewed belief and hunger after a display of real quality in their semi-final against Sao Paulo. For long periods of the game the Saudi Arabian side had their opponents on the ropes, and goals from Mohammed Noor and Hamad Al Montashari had them dreaming of an upset right up to the final whistle. In the end, Lady Luck deserted them, as did their final touch at critical moments, and that made all the difference. Amoroso was in unforgiving mood for the Copa Libertadores champions, as was Ceni from the spot, and the Tricolor held on to book their place in the final.
Al Ittihad's Brazilian midfielder Tcheco, though disappointed to have lost the semi-final, took some satisfaction from the way his side acquitted themselves. "We were very close to winning that game, and take pride from the fact that we showed the world the quality of our club. Our performance against the Brazilians will bring prestige to Saudi football," he told FIFA.com.
Against Sao Paulo, the Asian champions were very well organised and made full use of the speed of Mohammed Kallon and Mohammed Noor, the latter in a more attacking role, to constantly trouble the opposition defence. However, coach Anghel Iordanescu believes that his men still lacked a bit of self-confidence and were a touch overawed by their big-name rivals. "We just needed a little more courage," he said ruefully afterwards.
Judging by the defiant talk of Iordanescu's players, there will be no lack of motivation when they take on the Purple Monster on Sunday. If Al Ittihad are to take third place, however, they will have to do it without influential right-back Ahmed Dukhi Al Dosari, who will miss the game after an accumulation of yellow cards.
"It (the semi-final) was a high quality game, a good show for the people with a lot of goals," said Iordanescu, who will be hoping his side can put on a similar display on Sunday and return home as the third best club side in the world.
The situation in the Deportivo Saprissa camp is a little more complicated. Their defeat to Liverpool was nothing if not emphatic. A Peter Crouch goal in the opening minutes saw their game plan go out the window, and the Tico side were simply unable to adapt their system to mount a comeback. It was only during a spell of pressure late in the second half that they had any real chance of reducing the deficit, but by then they were 3-0 down and effectively dead and buried.
Saprissa's captain and goalkeeper, José Francisco Porras, sent a message of hope to team-mates and fans alike with his analysis of his situation: "We fell at the halfway stage, that's true. Anytime you fall, though, the most important thing is to pick yourself up and not stay down feeling sorry for yourself. We came here proud to be representing Costa Rica and won our first game against a very good Sydney FC. We then played with honour against Liverpool but couldn't beat them. Even so, we should value what we've done so far. Now I'm sure we have the character and courage to be successful in the third-place match."
Saprissa coach Hernán Medford has been telling his players repeatedly that "there is still something huge to play for: third place among the best club sides in the world". The key for Medford to unleashing the full force of the Purple Monster will be not to concede another early goal.
The players are in no doubt about what they have to do. "We need to fight for the bronze medal so we can offer it to our public," said Water Centeno alongside a nodding Ronald Gómez.
Both sides are anxious for victory to leave the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005 on a high and give their fans something to cheer about. With nothing to lose and all to play for, Sunday's showdown promises to be a spectacle of football worthy of a place on the podium.