Brazil versus England, beauty and the beast. If this was the real World Cup final, few observers would expect much beyond rearguard action from one side and an exhibition of flair and panache from the other. No prizes for guessing which way round.
Where the Club World Cup has an advantage – and there aren’t so many – is that the English team in question can field a surfeit of playmakers and liberos from around the globe. This is why Chelsea’s crop of maverick talents ought to beat their more celebrated rivals at the Yokohama International Stadium tomorrow. Role reversal, call it what you will, but perceptions will be challenged when Rafa Benitez’s side face Corinthians at a venue where Brazil’s national team last triumphed on the world stage, beating Germany a decade ago.
In the aftermath of their defeat here on Thursday, the Monterrey coach, Victor Vucetich, concluded that Central and South American clubs still lag behind the best in Europe, largely due to their respective budgets. “The players [in Europe] are paid a lot, so that’s how they get great players,” he said.
The vast fortune of Roman Abramovich has bought in and spat out enough famous players to fill a Rothmans Yearbook since he arrived at the club in 2003 – and the tally of managers is not that far behind. The very name Corinthians evokes an altogether different image. The club of Teleco, Rivelino and Socrates, the anniversary of whose death was marked the day the side left for Japan, can boast five Brazilian titles, the Club World Cup in 2000 and this year’s Copa Libertadores among a host of other honours, yet they cannot hope to match Chelsea’s pulling power.
Which is perhaps why coach Tite’s side have now to rely on endeavour over exquisite football, mind over Mata. And as Corinthians’ record of conceding just four goals in 14 games on their way to the Copa Libertadores title this year showed, they are hard to break down.
That will be put to the test by the array of skilled players at Benitez’s disposal, including the Brazilians David Luiz and Oscar, Spanish duo Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, and the brilliant Belgian Eden Hazard.
One man charged with disrupting this attacking threat is defender Paulo Andre. As well as being Brazil’s player of the year in 2011, Andre is notable for his off-field pursuits. He celebrated Corinthians’ Brazilian title triumph by asking all his team-mates to kick footballs dipped in paint across a canvas. As well as being a budding artist, he writes, and plays tennis and chess.
“I’m unusual,” he says. “It’s very hard to define players. I’m not sure if it’s because they are not capable or because they are shy about saying they do different things from football. We have a culture in Brazil where the football player can only play football. He can’t think, he can’t talk, he’s there just to play. And I’m trying to show people that you can be different.
“Then, on Sunday, you can play very well, because you are a professional guy who is enjoying life and doing what you know how to do.”
Playing against Chelsea will not be Andre’s first encounter with British football – as a youngster he was invited for a trial at Rangers in 2004. He was already an intermediate-level English speaker and is even better now, but he struggled with the Glasgow accent and ended up at Le Mans, in France.
Ultimately, though, the lure of his “dream” club Corinthians was too strong. “I had a lot of injuries in France and I said, ‘OK, I’m not happy here. What would I like to do with my life? I would like to play for Corinthians and win every championship we play’ – and it’s working very well”.
Andre has been well briefed on Chelsea by a familiar name to English football – former Arsenal midfielder Edu, who is director of football at the club. “He showed us some tackles and some stuff he did in England,” Andre said. “He gave us a lot of information on the Chelsea team.
“We know, about Hazard, about Oscar, about Mata. We know exactly what to do to try to stop them, so we will try to put into practice what our coach said to do.
“We will try to put pressure on their defence. Then, we hope the ball can’t arrive to these players easily.”
How easy that is to prevent will be the key if his team are to deny Europe a sixth successive triumph.