Rodrigo Mora might be tired, but the near 30-hour journey from Buenos Aires to Tokyo has quenched nothing of the fire that burns within him. "We’re dreaming of becoming world champions and we’re going to give our all in both games," he declared.
River Plate arrived in Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup on two separate flights, and the excitement expressed by the Uruguayan forward to FIFA.com at Narita Airport was shared by the rest of his team-mates.
“We’re feeling eight or nine out of ten. We just can’t wait to enjoy this unique experience and to do it in the best possible way,” commented Mora’s compatriot Carlos Sanchez, one of the mainstays of the Argentinian side, who will make their tournament debut in the semi-finals in Osaka on 16 December.
Travelling on the first flight, which made a stopover in Paris, were River’s foreign players, the youngest members of the squad and the coaching staff, headed by Marcelo Gallardo. Waiting for them on their arrival were a number of Japanese media outlets and some locally based fans clutching shirts for signing. The rest of the squad then arrived on the second flight, which had made a stop in Frankfurt.
River will stay in Chiba, 51 kilometres to the east of Tokyo until 12 December. They will then move on to Osaka to take on the winners of the match that will take place the following day between TP Mazembe and the winners of the tie between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Auckland City.
Though the minimum objective for Los Millonarios is to face off against Barcelona in the final on 20 December in Yokohama, they arrived in Japan focusing on nothing but their opening match. “We know that if we get through the semi-final we could well be coming up against a great team,” said Sanchez.
“We’ve got that extra motivation that could work in our favour. We want to live up to expectations and put in a great performance. We don’t just want to go through. We want to do it in style,” added the midfielder, who spent his flight watching The Divergent Series: Insurgent.
“I just came across it and it was great,” he said of his choice of in-flight entertainment, while Mora, like the rest of the squad, also watched films, listened to music and savoured the sense of anticipation they feel at taking part in “one of the most important tournaments in the world”.
On the way the players had time to discuss the spectacular send-off they received from the fans, who turned out in their thousands to line the 40-kilometre route that the River squad took from the Estadio Monumental to Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza Airport.
“It was unique,” said Sanchez. “It’s great to see the fans so excited. It really moves you. We’ve got a big responsibility to go out there and show people who River are and to make the fans feel proud, both the ones who come and those who don’t.”
Before taking off, Gabriel Mercado (gabimercado25), Matias Kranevitter (mkranevitter5) and Emanuel Mammana (emanuel_mammana24) were just some of the River squad to post videos on Instagram of the send-off they got from the fans.
Los Millonarios, who are making their FIFA Club World Cup debut but who lifted the Intercontinental Cup in 1986, have high expectations. And as Mora vowed, they will not be holding anything back: “We have to go out and play as if it were the last match of our lives.”