Barcelona and Santos have lived up to their status as favourites by winning through to the final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011, an outcome that many expected, but one which the players themselves have been reluctant to predict - in public at least.
As the Barça right-back Adriano revealed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com following his goalscoring contribution in their 4-0 defeat of Al-Sadd on Thursday, he, Dani Alves and their Santos colleagues in the Brazil team have been chatting about the tantalising match-up for some time now.
The issue has been the subject of much dressing-room banter between the Barcelona duo and the Peixe triumvirate of Elano, Paulo Henrique Ganso and Neymar, who all formed part of the Brazil squad at July’s Copa America.
“Everyone’s been looking forward to this game ever since then,” revealed Adriano. “The guys in the squad kept saying to Dani and me: ‘So, you reckon you’re going to be playing Santos, do you?’. We’ve been poking fun at each other saying things like: ‘Let’s go easy against each other, eh?’. Now the game’s actually come around, and there’s no way anyone will be taking things easy. At the end of the day it’s the Club World Cup final.”
Adriano and Alves’s status as Brazilian internationals means they are well placed to assess the merits of the likes of Neymar and Ganso, providing club coach Josep Guardiola with valuable first-hand information on two young players with big futures ahead of them.
“That’s right,” said Adriano. “The guys in the team want to know how the young lads play. I can tell you, though, that I’m expecting more from them and want to keep on seeing them in the national team in the years to come.”
Now the game’s actually come around, and there’s no way anyone will be taking things easy.
A distinguished performer in the most celebrated side in the world today, Adriano should have little cause for concern about his continued presence in Brazil coach Mano Menezes’ plans. He underlined his value to the Barcelona line-up once more on Thursday, foraging to great effect in attack and helping himself to two goals to set the European champions on their way to victory over the Qatari outfit.
“I’ve never scored two goals in one game before,” admitted the 27-year-old utility player, who came up through the ranks at Coritiba, moved to Sevilla in 2005 and then joined Barça in July last year. “I’ve played in several different positions since I came here: right-back, left-back and in the midfield. Against Al-Sadd I pushed up a little and played almost as an attacker. I’m used to that and I've always enjoy getting up front.”
That is an instinct Adriano and his Azulgrana team-mates may well have to curb when they take on Santos on Sunday, when they will have to guard against giving the inimitable Neymar too much space.
“We’re going to have to rethink our plans a little because we can't afford to let the kid get comfortable on the ball,” said Adriano, giving his view on the Peixe starlet. “Neymar’s a great lad and there’s no question that he’s the spearhead of what is a very talented team. We know all about the talent of Ganso, Elano, Borges, who scored a great goal with his second touch of the ball in the semi-final (against Kashiwa Reysol), and Danilo, who’s in terrific form. I think it’s going to be a fantastic spectacle."
It is a spectacle that Adriano and his compatriots are free to discuss in public at last, having long since suspected that they would be taking on the Brazilians in the tournament showpiece. All that remains to be seen now is, who will have the bragging rights at the next Seleção get-together.
“We’ve spoken about the game enough already,” said Adriano, having the final word. “The time’s come to go out there and get on with it.”