Benitez leaves nothing to chance for Liverpool's first world title

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The Independent Online

Contrary to its grandiose title, Liverpool will not receive any greater acclaim for winning the Fifa Club World Championship in Japan than they acquired with a fifth success in the European Cup, although, as an insight into the mentality of Rafael Benitez, the tournament has already exceeded all expectations.

The Liverpool manager and club captain Steven Gerrard were invited to have their photograph taken with the Toyota Cup as part of the publicity drive for a competition that, as its latest formula change indicates, is still struggling for recognition among the wider football community.

Following the photographer's instructions, Gerrard reached for the silverware only to be halted by the intervention of sharp Spanish rebuke. "Don't touch it!" ordered Benitez, a man renowned for methodical preparation and tactical acumen but never before for his superstitions.

Later he elaborated: "I don't like my players to touch a trophy before a final just in case they don't win it. The challenge is to win it, then they can touch it as often as they like."

Liverpool's attempt to complete a hat-trick of trophies in 2005 (they also won the Uefa Super cup in August) commences this morning in Yokohama when they face the Concacaf champions Deportivo Saprissa for the right to meet Sao Paulo of Brazil in Sunday's final.

Liverpool were beaten finalists in the World Club Final in 1981 and 1984, and having equalled the club record of 10 consecutive clean sheets against Middlesbrough in the Premiership on Saturday, the current upholders of Anfield tradition have a further opportunity to create their own history in Japan. "This is the one trophy we have never won and so we will be taking the challenge of bringing it home seriously," said Rick Parry, the club's chief executive.

"We have a responsibility to deliver the right results and bring the trophy back," said Gerrard. "For the players it is another chance to get a medal. We have got ourselves into a good position in the Premiership and winning this tournament could have a positive impact on our whole season."

The Club World Championship this year includes the winners of all six confederations under the Fifa umbrella, though it is designed to allow the European and South American champions, its traditional competitors, a less demanding route to the final. Sao Paulo secured their place yesterday with a 3-2 victory over Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia, Marcio Amoroso scoring twice in Tokyo. Though Saprissa are the first non-Mexican team to represent Concacaf, Liverpool are expected to dispense with the Costa Ricans with ease.

One of the heroes of Liverpool's Champions' League triumph, goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, is close to accepting his future lies away from Merseyside.

"My situation is very difficult," said Dudek, who has yet to make a first-team appearance this season. "It's very difficult for me to prepare for games. I'm happy here but maybe I could get the possibility to go on loan maybe for six months."

The Lowdown on Saprissa

* Were founded in 1935 and got their name from the man who donated their kit, Ricardo Saprissa.

* The team's dangerman is striker Alvaro Saborio, nicknamed "Sabogol", who has scored 67 goals in three seasons.

* Owner Jorge Vergara also has controlling interests in several Mexican clubs.

* The club only signs native-born or naturalised Costa Rican players.

* Their nickname is "el Monstruo Morado" (the Purple Monster) after their distinctive home kit.

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