There’s a new topic for reporters covering Liverpool to talk about now – whether embarking on a 12,000 mile round-trip to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup will hurt their hopes of success in the Champions League and Premier League. Some reporters then try to belittle the tournament, claiming it’s nothing much to write home about. This comes despite Liverpool being the representatives for Europe after winning the Champions League. Perhaps a bye for Chelsea into the tournament would have aroused more interest for them.
As far as FIFA, world football’s governing body, are concerned, the tournament is very important. The boss of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, takes it seriously of course, and says he knows Liverpool are treating the tournament with proper respect too: “I have had direct contact with Liverpool. They said they have won everything but never a world championship.”
Liverpool set off today for the tournament, which started earlier today when Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad beat Egypt’s Ahly in Tokyo. This brought to an end a 55-game unbeaten run for the Egyptians who now face Sao Paulo in the first semi-final on Wednesday. Ittihad are Asian Champions and had three members of their squad thrown out yesterday. This happened when FIFA found the three – all Brazilians – had not been officially registered with the club.
The second game takes place tomorrow when Sydney FC play Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica. It’s the winners of that game that Liverpool will face on Thursday’s second semi-final.
Blatter feels that Liverpool are going to try and bring the trophy home with them: “I am sure they will make a special effort. They will make the effort to win the tournament definitely. I’m sure they will arrive on Monday completely ready to play on Thursday.”
There’s a nine-hour time-difference for Liverpool to face as well as the long journey, but today’s game was reportedly played in freezing conditions, so at least there’s not too much acclimatisation to go through.
Blatter has obviously been keeping an eye on Liverpool’s recent form, as he said: “They have a good rhythm in the Premier League and in the Champions League, where they finished top in their group above Chelsea.”
Everyone assumes that Liverpool will meet Sao Paulo in the final, but Blatter says this may not turn out to be the case: “Football is unpredictable. I am sure the gap between the big clubs of South America and Europe and the teams from the other four confederations is not so big. If there are surprises I will be the first to be happy.”
Rafa Benitez is happy with the trip; he doesn’t feel it will cause him any real problems in terms of fatigue for the new-improved squad: “It would have been too much for us last season. We wouldn’t have been equipped. But we have analysed the situation and we’re pleased to be going to Japan because it’s a prestigious event. We knew we would have two problems this season. One was coming back early to qualify for the Champions League and the other was this. But you cannot choose dates for the schedule. We know we’ve got lots of games when we come back, but we want to go to Japan to bring back the trophy."