Chelsea favored; Corinthians confident
Rafael Benitez is relishing the "amazing" opportunity of a third Club World Cup final but refused Saturday to contemplate the implications of the result for his Chelsea future.
Sunday will see Benitez become the first manager to lead a team in three finals when the Blues face Corinthians in Yokohama, Japan.
Benitez knows more than anyone what it takes to win the Club World Cup, having done so with Inter Milan two years ago after controversially losing the 2005 final with Liverpool.
"I'm really pleased, I'm really proud, because I could manage three top sides in the world," he said. "To be here and to have this opportunity to win again is amazing and is fantastic. I know that it is a very important competition."
Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic said victory would prove the current squad has what it takes to build on the most glittering era in the Blues' history.
"For us, this is maybe the key game for this generation," Ivanovic said. "We know how we have to play the final and we know that it's going to be tough. So, we have to be ready."
The outcome could also have a profound effect on whether interim boss Benitez succeeds in convincing Chelsea to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge and supporters that he is not the enemy.
"I am not worried about what is going on in the future," Benitez said. "I am worried about what is going on tomorrow. ... I cannot manage the other things."
Benitez said he has yet to decide on his starting lineup, particularly whether to hand Frank Lampard a first start since his recovery from a calf problem.
"The good thing about this team, this squad, is I can choose any player and I'm sure that they will perform," Benitez said. "Frank is one of these players. He's a good player, a very good player. Still, I don't have the team in my head. After talking with my staff, we will decide."
Asked if defender David Luiz might keep his place in midfield after starting there for the first time in a Chelsea shirt, Benitez joked: "Why not? We are thinking about this option not just for this game. Could be tomorrow, could be for the future."
Chelsea is the firm favorite to beat Corinthians but Benitez knows from bitter experience at Liverpool that does not always equate to success.
"It's not important who are the favorites," he said. "Corinthians are a good and balanced team. It is difficult to find their faults. ... When you talk about Brazilian clubs, you always have to mention they have an organized system and know what to do. Like Sao Paulo were in 2005, they are very good defensively so it's difficult to create opportunities against them."
Midfielder Danilo was playing for Sao Paulo, Corinthians' arch-rival, when it beat Liverpool under Benitez in the 2005 final.
"It's a similar situation, maybe," Danilo said of facing Benitez again. "But the past is the past. The opponent is a different team, the timing is different. So I don't know if the past experience would make a difference."
Corinthians boss Tite bristled at suggestions his side had too easily surrendered the favorite's tag to Chelsea.
"Respecting my opponent doesn't necessarily mean that we think that we're underdogs," he said. "Let me be very blunt: at Corinthians, we want to win. I just seriously want to win."
Tite admitted his side needed to produce a flawless performance to beat Chelsea.
"We cannot make any mistakes," he said. "Each individual player has to be in very good condition on the pitch and has to be aware of the role he is playing. That's all there is to it."
Tite confirmed Danilo would move inside from the left wing to central midfield Sunday, with Jorge Henrique replacing Douglas.
The Brazilians will have the lion's share of supporters in the crowd, but that didn't concern Ivanovic.
"This is quite a similar situation to the Champions League final, when we actually played the game away," Ivanovic said, recalling May's triumph at Bayern Munich. "Tomorrow, there are going to be a lot of Brazilian supporters. But there are going to be our supporters as well."
The last five Club World Cups have been won by European teams but Ivanovic was taking nothing for granted.
"We are preparing for the game by studying a lot of moments from a lot clips from our games but also from Corinthians' semifinal," he said. "We know how it's going to be tough, how they are defending and they are playing. The final is a completely different game which small things can decide."
Information from Press Association was used in this report.