Corinthians and the World Club Cup

"That moment" for Corinthians (Getty)

“That moment” for Corinthians (Getty)

Corinthians march onwards and upwards. In a cold and packed stadium in Yokohama, Corinthians lifted the 2012 FIFA World Club Cup after beating, and in my opinion outplaying, Chelsea in the final.

A massive party has been taking place in São Paulo all day long and into the night. I was told the fireworks started at 06:00 am this morning. And don’t expect it to stop on Sunday because when the players get back from Japan there will be an open top bus parade in the city. A week long party.

Corinthians have always been one of Brazil’s most popular clubs. But, for all their popularity they have never dominated Brazilian football the way Manchester United or Liverpool have in England when at the top of their game. Could this be about to change I wonder? Their form over the last two years suggests that they might be starting to do just this. And their performance yesterday against Chelsea further reinforces this idea further.

Five years ago Corinthians were languishing the Brazilian Serie B after the Kia Joorabchian project went wrong. But the turnaround since then has been remarkable, mainly after Andres Sanches became the club president during that year in the Serie B. They won the Serie B title that year and have gone from strength to strength since. While Sanches has the look of a dodgy character – a James Bond villain –, few Corinthians fans can doubt the good he has done their club.

The Corinthians brand has been monetised and the Reais of their many supporters have been transferred from their pockets to the clubs coffers. This, thanks to his business acumen and the number of Timão shops that have sprung up all over the city in the last few years. Sponsors have piled in their money for some space on the club’s shirt too. Admittedly, at times, with around five different sponsors squashed into various parts, the shirt has suffered aesthetically but the funds have been invested in the team and it has shown on the pitch.

The signing of Ronaldo worked to raise the club’s profile and his goals helped them win the Brazilian Cup in 2009. Then, when Ronaldo got too fat to play and retired Corinthians actually benefited on the field. They swiftly put the Libertadores frustration of 2011 behind them by going on to win the Serie A league title the same year. This year they went a big step further by winning the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history. They were excellent throughout that tournament and fully deserved their victory.

On the business side they signed a Chinese player, Zizão, helping to push their brand in Asia. That signing didn’t work out very well because Zizão is actually a useless player and never gets a game but it shows the clubs commercial intent. Visionary by Brazilian standards. No doubt the Corinthians party that invaded Japan will have significantly increased the clubs brand in that part of the world.

They also have a new stadium to look forward to: The 48,000 seater Itaquerão which will be used to host São Paulo’s 2014 World Cup games (an extra 17,000 temporary seats will be installed during the World Cup). The Brazilian taxpayer is picking up a large chunk of the tab for the stadium (whether that is right or wrong is another story) but good news for Corinthians it most certainly is. And there is more excellent news for Corinthians: their biggest rival, Palmerias, has just been relegated to the Serie B.

Brazilians take the World Club Cup seriously, a point I stressed in my previous post. Sadly however, last year’s final between Barcelona and Santos was embarrassing. For me that match illustrated a huge gulf in quality between European and South American club football. Barcelona were exceptional and Santos exceptionally poor. This year, Corinthians flew the South American flag with far more honour.

I still stand by my claim last year that the gulf between European and South American football is big (mainly because of finances and organisation) but Corinthians were better than Chelsea yesterday and have shown that the gap is not huge, despite the financial differences. They kept the ball better (Chelsea edged possession stats but Corinthians kept the ball calmly when they needed to), were more composed and created better chances. They also wanted it more. Highly focused and sharp in the tackle.

Chelsea’s game plan seemed to be to play the ball over the top of the Corinthians defence and hope for the best. On two couple of occasions that this worked Torres shot straight at the keeper and Victor Moses was denied by alert defending from Paulo André (whose name comes up as Cren Berini on the BBC website for some strange reason). Moses had an excellent chance on the other occasion that Chelsea opened up Corinthians but Cássio pulled off a quite fantastic save.

Chelsea were not on their game and Torres looked like he was lost. Corinthians began to dominate the second half. Benitez didn’t know what to do. He walked up and down his line agitatedly but did nothing. And then the goal came, inevitably (sort of) and deservedly so. A triple Corinthians chance: first Paulinho with the chance to shoot, then Danilo does. The keeper makes the block but the loose ball is headed home by Paulo Guerrero. (Hows that for some old-style Championship manager commentary?) Guerrero means warrior in Portuguese and his match winning performance certainly lived up to his name.

Belated reaction from Benitez to send on Azpilicueta, Marin and Oscar (why didn’t Oscar start?). Torres had a chance and should have scored late on after a rare blunder by Corinthians’ stout defence but in keeping with the rest of his performance he missed it. Unbelievable to think that he cost more than the entire Corinthians team. And that makes the victory even sweeter. Well done Corinthians. I think I’ve even heard some São Paulo and Palmeiras fans say that today. Now that is really quite something.

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