We don't fear Barcelona, say minnows

Japanese and African champions refuse to be cowed as World Club Championship kicks off

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The Independent Football

With the wind in their sails after capturing a first J-League title, Japan's Kashiwa Reysol will be dangerous opposition for anyone at the Club World Cup, according to coach Nelsinho.

Reysol will be expected to comfortably brush aside New Zealand's Auckland City in today's opening game in Toyota with a quarter-final against Mexico's Monterrey at stake.

Nelsinho said his side would not take Auckland's collection of part-timers lightly, but warned Reysol possessed the weaponry to hurt bigger sides after their title boost.

"We're here to win," the Brazilian said yesterday. They [Auckland] deserve respect. They were good enough to reach the Club World Cup. But our standards remain the same. We don't want to just make up the numbers here. We have analysed our opponents and we want to keep on winning. That's what I will be demanding of my team – that's our goal."

The seven-team Fifa competition has been criticised for failing to come alive until the champions of Europe and South America join the fray at the semi-final stage.

Barring a major shock, favourites Barcelona and South American Libertadores Cup holders Santos should provide a mouth-watering final in Yokohama later this month. Before the storied Spanish and Brazilian sides jet into Japan, the smaller teams take centre stage, even if the quality of soccer on display could fail to set pulses racing.

"We always run our hearts out," said Kashiwa striker Hideaki Kitajima. "We can hit on the counter-attack and we can play a possession game. We'll put our soul into every game."

A Reysol win, while largely expected, will also help organisers fill seats as early matches have traditionally been played in freezing conditions at half-empty stadiums.

Unlikely to get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Lionel Messi or Xavi on the pitch, Kitajima said that shirt-swapping was not a motivation for Reysol.

"I don't just want to take part," he said, echoing his manager's sentiments. "It's always been a dream to play on this stage and we'll give our all in every match. The team feels the same. We want to play well and win, no matter what the game is."

Both quarter-finals take place on Sunday with Monterrey facing the winners of tomorrow's curtain raiser following the game between Tunisia's Esperance and Al Sadd of Qatar.

"It's going to be a tough task against the Japanese champions," said Auckland captain Ivan Vicelich. "We're a small amateur club. We're facing a huge challenge."

Messi and his team-mates are unlikely be quaking in their signatured boots but Esperance plan to give Barcelona a torrid time at the Club World Cup in Japan. The African champions must first beat Qatar's Al Sadd in their quarter-final at the weekend before launching an attempted ambush of Barca in Yokohama on 15 December.

But Ghana defender Harrison Afful, who scored a thumping left-foot rocket to win the CAF Champions League for Esperance last month, said the team feared no one. "Nothing is impossible. I keep on watching my goal over and over again on my computer," said the full-back, recalling his screamer against Wydad Casablanca. I can hardly recognise myself because I'm not used to scoring goals. I'm more of a provider. I never get tired of hearing the Tunisian commentator go wild," he said.

Al Sadd are likely to provide stubborn opposition in the quarter-finals but Afful, who was left out of Ghana's World Cup squad last year, believes Esperance could go far in Japan.

"We want to go to Japan and put in some good performances," said the 25-year-old, whose goal made Esperance kings of Africa for a second time, 17 years on from their first triumph.

"It won't be easy for us, but with the ability we've got, I can tell you, we're capable of going a long way in this competition."

Barcelona fly to Japan straight after a top-of-the-table Clasico showdown with bitter rivals Real Madrid at the weekend but are still favourites to win the seven-team Club World Cup.

The Catalan giants, winners in 2009 in Abu Dhabi and beaten finalists in 2006 in Japan, and Brazilian side Santos, join the competition at the semi-finals stage next week.

Japan will not bid for the Club World Cup in 2013 and 2014 to give the country a better chance of staging major women's tournaments.

Japan Football Association (JFA) president Junji Ogura said yesterday that plans to keep Fifa's seven-team Club World Cup in the country beyond next year have been put on ice.

"If we have it every year, it makes it difficult to host other competitions," Ogura said. If we want to stage the under-20 World Cup or the women's World Cup it makes sense not to bid [for the Club World Cup in 2013 and 2014]."

Tickets for all three games of this year's event in Yokohama are sold out, tournament organisers said yesterday.