x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Inter Milan crowned Club World Cup champions

Rafa Benitez brought his European behemoths to Abu Dhabi with his potential replacement Fabio Capello watching the final against TP Mazembe.

Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o, left, scores the second goal against TP Mazembe during their Club World Cup final.
Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o, left, scores the second goal against TP Mazembe during their Club World Cup final.

ABU DHABI // Last night, as golden ticker tape shot into the sky above Zayed Sports City and Inter Milan were crowned champions of the world, somewhere beneath, behind coach Rafael Benitez's slim smile, stood a relieved man.

For happily for the Spaniard this was not, regardless of what TP Mazembe's ever-joyous brass band would have you believe, time for Africa.

Benitez brought his European behemoths to Abu Dhabi in urgent need of improvement.

Two wins in their previous nine games and six goals conceded in their past two outings was not of the standard Massimo Moratti, the club's oil tycoon owner, had come to expect from last season's treble-winners.

Moratti spoke of "betrayal" following the Italians' 3-0 defeat to Werder Bremen in last week's Champions League and was explicit when quizzed on the future of his coach.

"The Club World Cup must be won," he said.

With Benitez's potential replacement Fabio Capello among the 42,174 spectators who filled the capital's largest stadium, the Spaniard started with Maicon, the Brazilian full-back, instead of Dejan Stankovic, who dropped to the bench.

Lamine N'Diaye, the Mazembe coach, had likened football with eating, saying that his Congolese side had an appetite and would be quenching it with an early goal. Given Singuluma almost provided it, twice exposing Maicon inside the first 10 minutes, but both chances produced goal kicks.

Moments later the Crows croaked and their defence conceded their first goal in 197 minutes of Club World Cup action.

Samuel Eto'o collected a knock-down from Diego Milito, and the Cameroon international played a perfect lobbed pass through for Goran Pandev.

With Mazembe captain Kazembe Mihayo's lunge just failing to reach, the Macedonian took a touch and clipped neatly past Muteba Kidiaba with the outside of his left foot.

"This was not an easy game because everyone was putting pressure on us to win and do so well," Benitez said.

"We controlled the ball in midfield and we did what we knew would make it difficult for them. It was not easy for them tactically and we did it very well."

Indeed, Mazembe looked rattled and as Inter pressed them across the pitch, four minutes later they had doubled their lead.

Javier Zanetti capitalised on the Africans' defensive naivety when Joel Kimwaki hesitated to clear near the corner. The Inter captain stole possession before pulling the ball back for Pandev, who fortuitously saw his miscontrolled attempt roll into the path of Eto'o and provider turned goalscorer with a sweet strike into the goalkeeper's right corner.

Mazembe were at risk of being overrun with Milito and Pandev combining well and only when the half-time whistle sounded did the African champions find respite.

"We committed too many tactical mistakes early on and this cost us two goals," N'Diaye said. "But our team were tired and exhausted because of the earlier games. We needed one more day of rest."

N'Diaye introduced Mukok Kanda at the interval, but the Congo striker saw limited opportunities come his way as Inter continued to dominate in midfield, without offering too much in attack.

Dioko Kaluyituka came closest for the underdogs, but Julio Cesar in the Inter goal did well to ensure he kept his second consecutive clean sheet.

Mazembe continued to push, but it was inevitably the Italians would prove the more clinical.

Jonathan Biabiany, a 70th-minute substitute for Milito, added a gloss to the scoreline with five minutes to go when he collected Pandev's delicious lob, rounded Kidiaba and rolled the ball into an empty net.

"We wanted to win this tournament and that is what we did," said Benitez, who dedicated the win to Inter's fans as well as that of his previous club, Liverpool, with whom he lost the 2005 Club World Cup final against Brazilian side Sao Paulo.

"We are very happy with this trophy and now we have to enjoy this victory."

As the final whistle rang out, it was greeted by rapturous cheers, a slim smile from the Inter coach and a blast over the PA system of Coldplay's When I Ruled The World.

"Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate,"sang Chris Martin. They will need to wait a little longer for the head of Senor Benitez.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae