Internacional to unleash teenage star on Barca
TOKYO, Dec 7 (Reuters) - European champions Barcelona may have to tame a prodigious Brazilian teenager known as 'Alex the Duck' in order to lift the Club World Cup this month.
The Catalans are red-hot favourites to go one better than Johan Cruyff's flamboyant side of the early 1990s by returning to Spain with an historic first world title.
South American champions Internacional are expected to provide Barca's stiffest test in Japan despite losing several key players since winning the Libertadores Cup in August.
Seeded teams Barcelona and Internacional are scheduled to meet in the final of the competition involving the world's six continental champions.
Barcelona begin their campaign in Yokohama on Dec. 14 when they take on the winners of Monday's clash between Mexico's Club America and South Korea's Chonbuk Motors.
New Zealand's Auckland City face Egypt's Al Ahli in the opening game on Sunday for the right to play Internacional on Dec. 13. The final takes place in Yokohama on Dec. 17.
Inter are poised to unleash their secret weapon -- 17-year-old Pato Alexandre, or 'Alex the Duck', who made an extraordinary debut for the club last month.
He scored with his first touch after 94 seconds and created two more goals in a 4-1 win at Palmeiras to set tongues wagging about another potential great Brazilian discovery.
'We always thought something like this would happen,' Internacional president Fernando Carvalho said. 'He's phenomenal. He has a huge future.'
Barcelona are unlikely to be quaking in their boots, however, the Spanish champions boasting one of the strongest squads in the world and, in Ronaldinho, arguably the game's best player.
Instantly recognisable with his flowing locks and toothy grin, Ronaldinho has already dismissed talk that Barcelona will be taking the Club World Cup anything but seriously.
'Ever since I was a boy I have wanted to win this title,' Barca's talismanic forward said. 'I remember watching it on TV. I'd love to win it. I want to win everything.'
Brazil's Sao Paulo edged out Liverpool 1-0 in last year's final to win the first edition of the revamped FIFA tournament but Barcelona are anxious to restore parity for Europe.
'We know that we could become the first Barca team to win this trophy and go down in the history books of the club.' said midfielder Xavi. 'That gives us extra motivation to win it.'
Cruyff's Barcelona lost 2-1 to Sao Paulo in 1992 in the Club World Cup's predecessor, a one-off encounter between the European and South American champions.
Barca coach Frank Rijkaard has told his players to show humility in a tournament they are expected to win with some comfort even with strikers Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi out through long-term injuries.
'We must go to Japan with a humble attitude, determined to work hard...without feeling that we are better than anyone else,' the Dutchman said.
'I can imagine the newspapers saying that we are the favourites but I think that will only complicate things for us.'