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Inter faces African champ Mazembe in historic World Cup final

The Club World Cup final appears to be a mismatch: Inter Milan with its squad of global football stars against a TP Mazembe side comprised mostly of unknowns from Congo

AP, Friday 17 Dec 2010
Inter Milan Vs Mazembe
The World Cup final showdown between Inter Milan and Mazembe

But the European champions insist they won't be taking the opposition lightly when they meet on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, especially after Mazembe upset Copa Libertadores champion Internacional to become the first African team to reach the final in the tournament's 50-year history.

"It's a good team, strong physically and two or three players who can make a difference," Inter coach Rafa Benitez said. "They work from beginning to the end so it will be a tough game." There is much riding on the final for Benitez, whose team has slumped to seventh in the Serie A standings and stumbled into the Champions League knockout stage where it will face Bayern Munich in a rerun of last season's Champions League final. The Italian media has suggested a loss Saturday could cost the Spanish coach his job.

The match also offers Benitez a chance to make up for his Liverpool side's narrow loss in the 2005 final to Sao Paulo of Brazil.

Benitez has insisted he is not feeling the pressure and remains confident despite the team's recent struggles. But he seems to recognize the importance of the match _ especially after Inter president Massimo Moratti suggested anything short of the Club World Cup title would be unacceptable.

"It's an honor and it's something very challenging for us," he said. "This is very important for us because it would be part of club history." Benitez also highlighted the significance of the final for FIFA, which has overhauled the tournament in recent years from one featuring the best in Europe and South America to one that includes teams from around the globe.

"Playing against the best African team is a reason to be proud: it's a huge moment for Africa but for Inter too, because this will be remembered as a historic Club World Cup final," he said. "How do I feel? We're about to play a final that decides who is the best team in the world - we're going to go for it. It's the last game of 2010 and I expect to play and win lots more in 2011." Inter, which won a prior incarnation of the competition in 1964 and 1965, will likely take heart from its dominant performance in Wednesday's 3-0 semifinal win against Asian champion Seongnam Ilhwa.

Helped by the return of defender Cristian Chivu, striker Milito and goalkeeper Julio Cesar, the team showed some of its old flair, easily breaking down the Korean defense and scoring at will.

The only disappointment was the loss of playmaker Wesley Sneijder, who limped off in the semifinal with a leg injury and won't play in the final.
The victory over Seongnam seemed to revive Inter's confidence. Now, the team is talking of matching some of last season's heroics which it achieved under Jose Mourinho, who is now with Real Madrid.

"It's a great final and great opportunity to bring Inter back to the top," captain Javier Zanetti told reporters.

"We will put in our best effort to win tomorrow." Still, Zanetti refused to accept that Inter comes into the match as the favorite _ realizing that was the mistake Internacional made.

"In the game, there are no favorites, especially these days," Zanetti said. "All the matches are well balanced.

We are at the same level. It would be mistake not to think this way." Fresh from its historic victory, Mazembe is not lacking for supporters. The club may have been little known outside Africa before this week but has since been talked up by the likes of Portuguese great Luis Figo, who is an adviser to Inter, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who on Saturday hailed Mazembe's win as a victory for African football.

"To have TP Mazembe in the final against the famous football team Internazionale Milano, the reigning European club champion, is a very big event," Blatter said.
Mazembe, dubbed the Chelsea of Africa by the media for its big-spending ways in the impoverished country, has been a dominant force in Congolese football over the past 30 years, winning 10 championships. It demolished Esperance Sportive de Tunis 6-1 to win a second continental championship in two years.

Outside Africa, though, the club was little known and given little chance in the tournament having lost both of its matches last year. But it beat Mexico's Pachuca in the quarterfinals and then upset Internacional 2-0 in the semis, giving the team a sense that it could pull off a "surprise" against Inter.

Mazembe coach Lamine N'Diaye said it was "an honor" to be playing against Inter in the final but that he and his players were not intimidated by a team made up players like Samuel Eto'o who they have admired from afar.

"We have to put on a good match and represent the African continent," N'Diaye said. "No matter the result is, I'll be proud of these players for their achievements and performance and by the fact they have shown for the past four months beautiful results."

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