x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Internacional: 'People's Club' have ties with UAE

The Club World Cup is a a big priority for the Brazilian team and thousands are expected to travel to Abu Dhabi to cheer them on.

With the Copa Libertadores held aloft, Internacional players celebrate after beating Mexico's Chivas 3-2 on aggregate in the final. 

Jefferson Bernardes / AFP
With the Copa Libertadores held aloft, Internacional players celebrate after beating Mexico's Chivas 3-2 on aggregate in the final. Jefferson Bernardes / AFP

The recent history of SC Internacional, much like the red-and-white emblem stitched on to the chest of the team's scarlet shirt, has a thread running through it; an uncanny thread that links the Brazilian club from Porto Alegre to the shores of the UAE. This month in Abu Dhabi, they hope to strengthen their incidental relationship by being crowned Club World Cup champions.

Internacional, not to be confused with Internazionale Milano who will also compete in Fifa's intercontinental club competition, which starts on Wednesday, are the last side from outside of Europe to win the competition. In 2006, they beat Barcelona - victors in the UAE capital last year. Their coach at the time was Abel Braga, now manager of Abu Dhabi-based side Al Jazira.

The success was followed in 2008 when they defeated Estudiantes de la Plata - finalists in Abu Dhabi last year - to become the first Brazilian side in nine years to win the Recopa Sudamericana. Their coach that year was Adenor Leonardo "Tite" Bacchi, who was, until October, manager of Al Wahda - the Abu Dhabi-based side that will represent the host nation in this month's tournament following their Pro League triumph last season.

Internacional, as Estudiantes discovered after heartbreakingly succumbing in extra time to the potent attacking arsenal of Barcelona in last year's final, will be aware that despite there being two Inters, there can be only one winner. And history is on their side.

The Colorado - the Portuguese translation for "Red" - have competed in the Emirates before, taking part in an exhibition tournament in January 2008. The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid International Football Championships, referred to colloquially as the Dubai Cup, pitted Internacional against none other than Inter Milan in the final of a four-team knock-out competition.

The Brazilians, whose sole notable player that night was Brazil international Nilmar, won 2-1 over a Nerazzurri side boasting, among others, Maicon, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hernan Crespo, sending the Italian side home without the silverware they had arrived expecting.

Founded in 1909 by a trio of Brazilian brothers who were ineligible to play for their city's only football side - Gremio Porto Alegrense - because they lacked German heritage, Internacional soon became known as "The People's Club", open to anyone regardless of race and religion.

Today, they remain one of only three sides to have competed in the Brazilian top flight every season since its inception in 1971. And with a roster that has at times included the likes of Dunga and Taffarel, both World Cup winners in 1994, and Lucio and Alexandre Pato, now plying their trades in Milan with Inter and AC, respectively, Internacional have a pedigree for producing talent.

While Sandro, their tough-tackling, precociously gifted midfielder, departed for Tottenham Hotspur within 24 hours of his side's Copa Libertadores victory on August 18, one pivotal figure remains. Rafael Sobis scored in Inter's 3-2 second-leg win over Guadalajara, but a month earlier he had been playing his domestic football for Al Jazira in the UAE capital. The Brazilian will return to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on December 14 when the Colorado start their campaign against either TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Mexican outfit Pachuca. This time, however, he may feel a little more at home: more than 6,000 Brazilians are expected to make the trip from Porto Alegre to cheer on their side in Abu Dhabi.

"We know this team has some fanatical supporters because we are bringing them," said Thiago Monteiro, online operations manager with Moinho Tur, a Brazilian tour company organising package deals to fans across the Atlantic. "The team has already won the Club World Cup once in Tokyo in 2006 and we know a lot of them are travelling, a lot of them are expecting to win again and a lot of them plan to make plenty of noise.

"Here in Brazil, the Fifa World Club is more important than it is for [European football fans]. Our calendar goes from February to December, and this competition ends the schedule for us. It is the biggest title that a Brazilian team can win as it provides the players a chance to let the world know their names and also that of the team."

The name of Internacional is no stranger in the UAE, but success this month in the last Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi before it returns to Japan, would cement the team's place in the history of world football. It would also add another stitch to the thread of success that links them with the Emirates.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Information

Home: Porto Alegre, Brazil
How qualified: Won Copa Libertadores
Founded: 1909
Coach: Celso Roth
Domestic titles: 3
Key victory: Alecsandro’s away goal in the second leg of the semi-final with Sao Paulo was decisive when Sao Paulo’s Ricardo Oliveira, previously of Al Jazira, scored late.