When the Corinthians squad left Sao Paulo a week ago for the Fifa Club World Cup in Japan, 20,000 supporters came to see them off. The cavalcade of fans in cars blocked Ayrton Senna Highway, one of the main routes into the airport in Guarulhos and then they invaded the terminal. The pictures are extraordinary. As fans pack the different levels of the airport with banners and smoke flares they might as well be on the terraces of a stadium.
It would be fair to say that the supporters of Corinthians, holders of the Copa Libertadores, champions of South America, are taking this competition seriously.
You only need to have been at Cobham, Chelsea's training ground, over the last few months to see the level of interest from Brazilian media. Some have stayed on in London since the Olympics just to cover Chelsea, European champions, who are likely to be Corinthians' opponents come the Club World Cup final on Sunday in Yokohama. What confuses the Brazilian media is the lack of interest from their English counterparts.
The event and its former incarnation as the one-off game, the Inter-Continental Cup, is one of the most stunning examples of the power of South American football. Europe takes away the continent's best players, sometimes, in the case of Lionel Messi, pictured, before they have played professionally in their home nation, and yet for all that the South Americans are still competitive.
The competition's record going back the last 20 years is 13-7 in European clubs' favour. But given the financial dominance of the game in this continent, the fact that South American sides have won seven (four Brazilian sides, three Argentinian) is testament to their quality. That record does not include the World Club Championship in 2000, subsequently discontinued, which Corinthians won.
Fifa has fiddled relentlessly with the competition in recent years to come up with the current format, highly unsatisfactory, which includes the tokenism of including the Oceania champions. The amateurs of Auckland City were knocked out on Thursday but, even that silliness aside, being champions of the world is a title worth having.
South America provides so many of the players who make Uefa's Champions League what it is – be that Messi, Marcelo, Dani Alves, Alexandre Pato, Kaka, Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Arturo Vidal or Antonio Valencia.
According to Uefa's website, there were more Brazilians (76) in the Champions League group stages this year than any other nationality. That includes France (66), Spain (63), Germany (47) and Portugal (41). There were more Argentinians (32) than Englishman (31), a statistic that points to some pretty depressing side-effects to our all-conquering Premier League.
The South Americans do have some advantages when it comes to the Inter-Continental Cup or latterly, the Club World Cup. It is the end of their season meaning that by the time Corinthians play their semi-final on Wednesday they will have been in Japan more than a week. Chelsea arrived yesterday. In addition, most of Chelsea's squad, including Rafael Benitez, who won the Club World Cup at Inter Milan and was sacked shortly afterwards, know that the competition carries limited credibility relative to the embarrassment of that early Champions League exit.
Corinthians may have the advantage of having longer to get used to the jetlag but when you place the two financial models of these clubs alongside each other, they belong to different worlds. Europe should really win every time. That they do not is testament to the remarkable depth of South American football.
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