International

Benitez could be Big in Japan

Nobody pays too much attention to the FIFA Club World Cup, but it’s the sort of competition that you don’t want your opponents to win – after all, when you’ve won the toughest club competition – by hook or by crook – you don’t want a bunch of Mexicans or Brazilians running around claiming they are “world champions”.

Chelsea jet off to Yokohama having avoided the latest Japanese earthquake by a few days. Rafa Benitez has the chance to shift the ground beneath him a little by bringing home the FIFA Club World Cup and rounding off 2012 with a third Chelsea trophy. It may, just may, start to change the Blues’ fortunes this season.

While it’s clear that Manchester United are going to enter 2013 as red hot favourites for the title, Chelsea can rebuild, refocus and restore a little confidence from the back benches. Aim for the top four – realistic – and pick up some silverware (equally realistic). Benitez – rightly, in my opinion – has targeted the Europa League and FIFA World Club Cup for starters. And then there’s the Capital One Cup and FA Cup. Yes, it’s all a little less grandiose than the Champions League, but seriously, were Chelsea really going to win it again this season? I don’t think so.

So step one is the FIFA Club World Cup and a semi-final meeting with Mexico’s CF Monterrey. Owned by FEMSA, the largest bottling company in Latin America, they’ve won the CONCACAF Champions League for the past two seasons, beating fellow Mexicans Club Santos Laguna in the 2011-12 final. They have won the Mexican Premier four times, 1986, 2003, 2009 and 2010. In last season’s FIFA Club World Cup, they finished fifth.

Interestingly, Monterrey are the best supported side away from home in Mexico, with up to 14,000 travelling to games. This season, Monterrey are in seventh place in the Apertura stage (there are two stages to the Mexican season) of the league campaign. They have won five of their 17 league games and have lost four.

Mexico won the football Olympic gold medal and two of Monterrey’s players, Hiram Mier and Darvin Chavez were in the squad. So it won’t be an easy 90 minutes for Chelsea, and Monterrey have already played one game, so they will be in their stride when the two teams meet.

Monterrey beat Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai in the quarter-final by 3-1. Veteran Argentine forward Cesar Delgado scored two late goals to clinch the tie. Their coach, Victor Manuel Vucetich, believes Monterrey can win the title. “We’ve got a point to prove and our expectations are higher than they were in 2011.”

With Chelsea losing their European crown and the club in a state of disarray, they also have a point or two to prove. They could go to the Land of the Rising Sun (and I don’t mean that pub in Fulham Road) with their tails up.

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