Although F.C. Internazionale Milano ultimately reigned supreme in UAE, this was no ordinary FIFA Club World Cup. It's easy to forget giving the convincing nature of their triumph, but so indifferent had the Italians' pre-tournament form been that many people had them behind SC Internacional do Porto Alegre on the list of favourites.
Led by the inspirational Samuel Eto’o, however, I Nerazzurri defied the doubters, comfortably seeing off Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma F.C. in the last four before dispatching African hopefuls TP Mazembe Englebert by the same 3-0 scoreline in Saturday’s final.
In rediscovering the spirit that took them to the European title earlier this year and in emulating the feat of their city rivals AC Milan, who lifted the trophy in 2007, the Italians collected a third club world championship trophy to add to the two intercontinental titles they won in the mid-1960s. It was the perfect tonic following a trying start to the season.
After his outstanding display in the final, Samuel Eto’o was a deserving winner of the adidas Golden Ball. The Cameroonian striker set up strike partner Goran Pandev for Inter’s opening goal against the Congolese, and then struck with a superb drive for their second before Jonathan Biabiany rounded off the scoring five minutes from time.
Despite their defeat, African champions TP Mazembe had every reason to be pleased with their competition. Lamine N’Diaye’s side pulled off the shock of the tournament when they became the first African side to reach a FIFA Club World Cup final, goals from Mulota Kabangu and Dioko Kaluyituka helping them oust Copa Libertadores holders Sport Club Internacional in the semis.
As expected, the Congolese side brought their colourful and noisy band of supporters with them, with Sport Club Internacional’s fans also making themselves heard during Saturday’s match for third place against Seongnam Ilhwa FC. Belatedly reproducing the form that took them to the Copa Libertadores title earlier this year, the Brazilians salvaged some pride with a 4-2 win, a match which provided the perfect send-off for their veteran Argentinian goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri, who came on as a second-half substitute in what was the final appearance of his professional career.
The man of that particular match was Alecsandro, who scored two of O Colorado’s four goals and set up Tinga, for another. Andres D’Alessandro capped another influential display by scoring a long-range strike, while the South Koreans were indebted to another in-form South American, Colombian midfielder Mauricio Molina, for their two goals. Also on the scoresheet in the 4-1 quarter-final win over Al Wahda - a game in which he also provided two assists - Molina ended the tournament as leading goalscorer.
The Asian champions’ hopes of reaching the final were dashed by the ruthless FC Internazionale Milano in the semis. Driven forward by the tireless Javier Zanetti, the Italians made light of Wesley Sneijder’s early injury to run out easy 3-0 winners, although their Asian opponents can take pride from emulating compatriots Pohang Steelers, who also reached the last four 12 months ago.
Having appeared in the competition twice before, Club de Futbol Pachuca were expecting to make an impact themselves, but had to be content with fifth place after losing to TP Mazembe in the quarters. The Mexicans rounded off with a penalty-shootout win over home side Al Wahda, who were at least able to improve on the seventh place attained by fellow countrymen Al Ahli FC in 2009.
Oceania champions Hekari United FC, who lost 3-0 to the Emirati side in the play-off for the quarter-finals, had performed miracles merely to reach the tournament, the last to be held in Abu Dhabi before its return to Japan next year.
Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium (Abu Dhabi)
Zayed Sports City Stadium (Abu Dhabi)
3 goals: Mauricio Molina (Seongnam)
2: Alecsandro (Internacional), Dario Cvitanich (Pachuca) and Fernando Baiano (Al Wahda)