When he was Liverpool manager, Benitez lost the 2005 Club World Cup to Sao Paulo of Brazil. He comes into the 2010 edition, which starts Wednesday and runs to Dec. 18, hoping his injury-plagued Inter Milan squad shows the dominance it displayed last year in claiming a treble of titles.
The Italian media have suggested anything short of the championship in Abu Dhabi could end Benitez’ short reign, although club president Massimo Moratti has stuck by the embattled coach. The club sits sixth in the Series A standings and has already accumulated as many losses as it did all last season.
“I think that for all of us it will be an important event,” Benitez said. Inter won a prior incarnation of the Club World Cup in 1964 and 1965 when it was called the Intercontinental Cup.
“For me, as a coach it is an opportunity to win an incredibly important tournament at club level,” he said. “I remember the past (with Liverpool), but I must forget and think about the future, because I think it is more important to move on and believe we can win this time.”
Inter has a bye through to the semifinals, where it will face either Asian Champions League winner Seongnam Ilhwa of South Korea, Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates or the Oceania champions Hekari United of Papua New Guinea.
A semifinal victory will likely mean a final against Internacional of Brazil, a team which won its first Club World Cup title in 2006 when it beat Barcelona 1-0.
“For now, we have concentrated on Brazil’s Internacional. I myself watched them play one match and I thought they were fast and technically strong,” Benitez said in an interview on FIFA’s website. “Before the competition starts we’ll also take a closer look at our other rivals, because although we’re aware of our strengths, we respect the brand of football played on every continent.”
Like Inter Milan, Internacional has struggled domestically since earning a spot in the Abu Dhabi tournament by defeating Guadalajara Chivas of Mexico in the Copa Libertadores final earlier this year. It is only eighth in the Brazilian standings.
Club president Vitorio Piffero said Internacional will head to the competition without the underdog status it had in 2006.
“Now we have a bigger responsibility,” Piffero told the team’s Website. “It’s more complicated than it was in 2006.”
Internacational has to get either of TP Mazembe of Congo or Mexico’s Pachuca to reach the final.
“Our biggest challenge is the semifinal, because that’s our first match,” defender Bolivar said. “We won’t yet talk about a possible match against Inter Milan. That’s for the press to do.”
For its part, CONCACAF champion Pachuca is aiming to end a bad run of form from Mexican clubs at the tournament since Necaxa’s third place in 2000.
“It’s true, every time a Mexican club goes to a Club World Cup things start to go wrong,” Pachuca forward Edgar Benitez told the FIFA website.
But the Paraguayan international said he expected better this time around and felt the team was well positioned to reach the finals.
“We’re all really hoping that we can win our first game and take on Brazilian side Inter, who play very good football,” Edgar Benitez said. “We’d then give it our best shot against them because we’re dreaming of a meeting with the European champions. But we have to take things one step at time, because we know our African opponents are a very good side too.”
Many Hekari players are just happy to be playing in the Middle East. They joked that many of their fans still don’t believe they made it this far while others have been unable to watch the team’s rise since many villages in their South Pacific nation don’t have access to the Internet.
“When you see us alongside Inter Milan, the question I ask myself is: How did we achieve this?”’ Hekari striker Kema Jack said. “Some villagers from Koparoko where I am from think I am making up a story that we have qualified.”
FIFA Club World Cup 2010 schedule
Wednesday 8 December
1) 18: 00 Al-Wahda sports club – Hekari United FC
Friday 10 December
2) 18: 00 TP Mazembe – Club de futbol Pachuca
Saturday 11 December
3) 18: 00 Winner 1 – Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma
Tuesday 14 December
4) 18: 00 Winner 2 – Sport Club Internacional
Wednesday 15 December
5) 19: 00 Winner 3 – FC Internazionale Milano
Match for fifth place
Wednesday 15 December
16: 00 Loser 2 – Loser 3
Match for third place
Saturday 18 December
16:00 Loser 4 – Loser 5
Saturday 18 December