x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Corinthians fans find value in success after winning Club World Cup

The tournament is seen as an inconvenience in Europe, while South American supporters travel the globe to watch, writes Andy Mitten.

Twenty-two thousand supporters followed the Corinthians to Japan for the Club World Cup. SEBASTIAO MOREIRA / EPA
Twenty-two thousand supporters followed the Corinthians to Japan for the Club World Cup. SEBASTIAO MOREIRA / EPA

It is 24 hours flying time from Sao Paulo, South America's biggest city, to Tokyo, the world's largest metropolis which includes Yokohama. As there are no direct flights, the travelling time starts at 30 hours, with a connection in the United States, Europe or the Middle East necessary.

Despite being on the other side of the world, 22,000 Corinthians fans travelled from Brazil to the Fifa Club World Cup last week. Their Herculean efforts were rewarded as the South American champions became world champions after Sunday's 1-0 victory over Chelsea in Yokohama.

It was the largest intercontinental away following for a football match in history and was boosted by a further 8,000 Corinthians fans living in Japan.

The 700 Chelsea fans who made the 12-hour journey east were heavily outnumbered, but then the combined following of Manchester United in 1999, 2000 and 2008, Liverpool in 2005 and Chelsea this year would still have been dwarfed by Corinthians' masses.

The cup is a big deal in Brazil and where the title "world champions" is taken very seriously.

When the Brazilian side Internacional won in 2006, there were huge celebrations and flags proclaiming them "world champions" around Porto Alegre until they next reached the tournament in 2010.

Then, Barcelona triumphed in Abu Dhabi, but almost 10,000 Internacional fans travelled across the world to see their team. Parties were held before the tournament by fans going to Abu Dhabi and stories of the trip became legend in the southern Brazilian city of two million.

"People sold their cars to pay for the trip to Abu Dhabi … their furniture and their pets," said Internacional fan Roberto Behs.

"If you weren't going then you felt you were missing out because the people who had been in 2006 and saw the victory against Barcelona told them it was the greatest trip ever."

Corinthians' victory over Chelsea saw them become the first non-European club to be crowned world champions since Internacional's 2006 triumph, but why the huge followings from Brazilian clubs?

And how do fans of Corinthians, traditionally known as a team of the working class - with city neighbours Sao Paulo and Palmeiras attracting wealthier supporters - afford the money?

Past tales of selling household possessions have become legend, but Brazil's economy has boomed and its residents have become accustomed to long distance foreign travel. They also see the Club World Cup as the pinnacle, whereas European fans consider the Uefa Champions League the biggest tournament.

Brazilians also have increasing confidence in their own teams, though away followings remain small because of the country's vast size and limited infrastructure. Corinthians took 600 fans to a league game with Internacional this season, of which 300 travelled 530 miles from Sao Paulo.

As the country becomes richer, so the ability of the biggest clubs to keep their best players increases.

In 2009, Ronaldo returned to Brazil to play for Corinthians. Ronaldinho, Robinho, and Elano have all returned on wages comparable to those in Europe, while Diego Forlan is at Internacional.

The travelling numbers are staggering and Tite, the Corinthians coach, was right to praise "the non stop noise of the 12th man" in Yokohama.

The 30,000 Corinthians fans in Tokyo were equivalent to their average home attendance of 29,951, the highest in Brazil. That figure would place them 13th in England's Premier League behind Southampton.

The average figure is from 2011 when Corinthians won the league on the day their legendary former player Socrates passed away. They then beat Boca Juniors to become South American champions, yet crowds in Brazil are notoriously fickle and can plummet by 40 per cent in a poor season.

Chelsea may have been heavily outnumbered, but attendances at English clubs are far more stable.

Not that any of this matters to the estimated 30 million Corinthians fans in Brazil (the vast majority of whom have never seen their team play) as they celebrated being world champions at parties all over the country with fireworks being set off on a sunny Sunday morning. The biggest party was on the Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo.

Brazilian clubs have now been crowned world champions a record 10 times, with a record six different clubs triumphing either in the old Intercontinental Cup or the Club World Cup since 2000, the inaugural tournaments being won by the hosts, Corinthians.

None have managed to match AC Milan's four victories though.

And should a Brazilian team win the Copa Libertadores this year and reach the 2013 Club World Cup, they will not have to travel far. The tournament is being staged in Morocco, a mere 10 hours from Brazil's main centres of population.

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