Embattled Inter Milan coach Rafa Benitez said Tuesday that he feels "calm and content" ahead of the Club World Cup semifinal match against Asian champion Seongnam Ilhwa, as speculation mounts that a loss could cost him his job.
The Italian media suggests a stumble at the Abu Dhabi tournament could end the Spaniard's time at Inter despite only having joined in the offseason for a two-year deal.
Inter is seventh in the Serie A standings, 13 points behind leader AC Milan.
Inter president Massimo Moratti piled on the pressure last week following the 3-0 Champions League loss to Werder Bremen, insisting nothing short of the Club World Cup title would suffice. Inter won the prior incarnation of the Club World Cup in 1964 and 1965 when it was called the Intercontinental Cup.
"I feel calm and content after seeing (Diego) Milito in training," Benitez said, a day ahead of the team's clash with Seongnam in Abu Dhabi. "We have a strong team and we are convinced that we can win the semifinal."
Benitez has struggled to live up to the achievements of his predecessor Jose Mourinho, whose team claimed a treble of titles last season and who is now with Real Madrid. Beset with injuries, Inter has already lost as many games as it did all last season and only qualified second in its Champions League group, mostly because of uncharacteristic defensive lapses.
But as it prepares to face Seongnam Ilhwa, Benitez insisted the team is playing better than it has all season.
"The team is playing at their best. The environment is positive and it will be positive for this game," Benitez said. "We had a good training session and everybody is cheerful and looking forward to the game."
Benitez refused to name his lineup for Wednesday's match. But defenders Maicon, Cristian Chivu and striker Milito are set to return from injury, while goalkeeper Julio Cesar is hoping to come back for the final.
Milito, who has been training for a week, said he "felt fine" and that he was eager to get out on the pitch and help Inter to a winning start. In the other semifinal, Copa Libertadores champion Internacional of Brazil play African titleholder TP Mazembe of Congo Tuesday night.
"We don't know if we will get a chance to play in this tournament again. So, we will try and give it our best and I'm looking forward to it," Milito said. "Everybody wants to play good football and everybody is ready ... We have a big competition ahead of us and we have good team spirit. We had some difficulties in the past but everyone is available and happy."
Seongnam, which plays in South Korea, started strong by thrashing local favorites Al Wahda 4-1 in the quarterfinals. But Asian clubs have never beaten their European counterparts in the Club World Cup and Seongnam coach Shin Tae-yong said he was doubtful his side could break that three-match losing streak.
"I would rate our chances as 30 to 40 per cent with Inter at 60 per cent," Shin said. "But a miracle can happen. We will challenge them and I hope we get a good result." Known for its discipline and patience, Seongnam has emerged in recent years as a dominant force in Asia. It has won the K-League seven times and this year it has won the AFC Champions League for a second time in 10 years. A victory against Inter would raise its profile well beyond Asia.
"Inter are one of the world's best teams and we have prepared really well," said forward Choi Sung Kuk. "We will show that on the field tomorrow. We are in top form physically and mentally and it is a chance for us to show to the world that we are a good Korean team."