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Running for the world

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Every football team has a player who personifies their side. He is usually a favourite with the fans. Often he fulfills a key role in the team. Sometimes he supported the club as a boy. Always he is willing to give his all.

At Internacional that man is Fernandao.

The burly striker scored one and laid on another when Inter beat Sao Paulo in the Copa Libertadores final in August and he will be hoping for more of the same in Japan next week when he leads his side into FIFA's Club World Cup.

Internacional go into the competition as underdog to Ronaldinho's Barcelona. But Fernandao will not allow himself or his teammates to be overawed by the glamorous Spaniards and certainly not by Ronaldinho, whose love of Inter's closest rivals Gremio is well documented.

'Obviously Barcelona have a great team but they are not unbeatable,' said the 28-year old former Marseille striker. 'In the 2003 World Club Championship Boca Juniors were champions when they overcame the millionaires of Milan. Last year Sao Paulo beat Liverpool. We will go to Japan with lots of respect for Barcelona but we don't fear them.'

Inter can take heart from recent results in the annual competition. After losing seven of the eight games between 1995 and 2002, Latin teams have found their more competitive edge in recent years, winning two of the last three, including last year when Sao Paulo surprisingly overcame Liverpool 1-0.

Fernandao believes Inter are well placed to keep that run going and become the fifth Brazilian team to win the trophy after Flamengo, Gremio, Santos and Sao Paulo. They will attempt to do so without many of the players who won them the Libertadores in August.

A handful of players who impressed European scouts with their performances in the tournament have left the club: central defender BolĂ­var went to Monaco, midfielder Tinga headed to Borussia Dortmund and left-footed defender Jorge Wagner and quick-footed forward Rafael Sobis both went to Real Betis.

Coach Abel Braga moved quickly to replace them, bringing in Indio, Hidalgo and Iarley, who won the tournament with Boca Juniors in 2003. They, along with some promising youngsters and a few stalwarts like Fernandao, are more than capable of giving Barcelona a run for their money, the burly captain said.

'Tinga was a key player for us but we managed to compensate for his leaving with some tactical changes and with the performances of Wellington Monteiro and Alex,' he said.

'We also felt the loss of Sobis, Jorge Wagner and Bolivar but the signings of Indio (who replaced Bolivar), Hidalgo (who took over from Jorge Wagner) and Iarley (the former Boca Juniors star brought in to replace Sobis) were important.'

'They will clearly be important players for us in the World Club Championship but the team was already there and I believe we can reach the same high standards in Japan that we reached in the finals of the Libertadores.'

Just as he did in the final weeks of their Libertadores campaign, Braga rested some of the team's big names in advance of their Asia trip. Sao Paulo tied up the league with two games still to play and Braga took the opportunity to blood some young players.

The most remarkable arrival was that of Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, an 17-year old striker who goes by the name Pato, or Duck. Pato was outstanding on his first team debut against Palmeiras on Nov. 26, scoring one after just 15 minutes and making two more in the 4-1 win.

Possessing an assured first touch and a clinical finishing ability, he showed sufficient maturity in that one match to convince Braga he was worth a place in the 23-man squad for Japan. He could well line up alongside his captain on Dec. 13 in Inter's first match against the winner of the Auckland-Al Ahly match.

Whoever, partners Fernandao will be made aware of the importance of the title and of equalling the feat of their city rivals Gremio, who beat Hamburg 2-1 in 1983. Inter silenced much of their rival's crowing when they won the Libertadores and equalled Gremio's feat. Now, old hands like Fernandao are using Gremio's 1983 triumph to gee themselves up.

'Right now, everything that serves as an incentive is good,' Fernandao said.

'Anything that can give us a boost is good, because I think that the title is in the details. You can be sure that we are using everything possible to motivate ourselves. We had a great year and we want it to be even better.

'We want to win the world title.'


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