Wed, Dec 20, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Are Internacional really on top of the world?

WORLD'S BEST?Although the Brazilian champions beat Barcelona on Sunday in the final of the Club World Cup, doubts remain over how important the competition is

AP , LONDON

Internacional won the Club World Cup this weekend, earning the unofficial title of the best team in soccer.

Hardly.

The Brazilian team was one of six competing in the FIFA tournament in Japan, advancing to the semi-finals automatically along with European champion FC Barcelona.

After dispensing of Egypt's Al Ahly in the last four, the Copa Libertadores champions moved on to the final and a match against Barcelona. The Spanish champions topped Mexican team America in the semi-finals.

The competition, formerly known as the Intercontinental Cup or the Toyota Cup, used to be between the South American and European champions. It expanded to include the four other continental champions last year.

Barcelona brought most of its top team to Yokohama, including Ronaldinho, Carlos Puyol, Xavi Hernandez and Victor Valdes. But strikers Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi missed the match with injuries, and it remains unclear to many observers how much the players on the field really wanted to win.

`Surprise'

"The surprise would have been if Barcelona had won," former Barcelona coach and Netherlands great Johan Cruyff said.

Cruyff coached the team in 1992 in its only other appearance in the competition, when it lost to Sao Paulo.

Inter won Sunday's match with an 82nd-minute goal from Adriano -- not the Adriano who plays for Brazil's national team and Inter Milan.

In the old days, it would have been the other Adriano -- still playing at home -- and the title would have meant more.

Santos, another Brazilian team, won back-to-back titles in 1962-63 when Pele led the team over Benfica and AC Milan.

Other famous South Americans including Carlos Bilardo and Zico also helped their teams win the title. Bilardo, who reached the final in each year from 1968-70 with Estudiantes, won one title and lost two others. He later led Argentina to its second World Cup title as coach in 1986.

Nowadays, all the top South American players are lining up alongside the best of Europe -- in Europe -- with the stars from Africa and Asia as well.

European teams, obviously, continue to use most of their top players. Current Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard, for example, was named man of the match in 1990 when Milan beat Olimpia of Paraguay.

Still, some European champions have skipped it altogether.

Ajax, the 1971 European champion, let runner-up Panathinaikos take its place later that year, with the Greek team losing to Nacional of Uruguay.

Forest dropped out

In 1979, English team Nottingham Forest let Malmo play Olimpia of Paraguay -- and the Swedish club lost to the first South American team from outside Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay to play for the title.

Still, Inter won on Sunday and earned the title of Club World Cup champion. That can't be dismissed, even if it is essentially a friendly.

"Inter is at the top of the world now. It will shine for eternity," Inter fan Melo Fernandes said while celebrating the victory in Brazil.

Several Barcelona players gave Inter credit for the win, but you can't expect them to say they didn't try.

"It was difficult against such a good team," Valdes said. "They played on the counter attack a lot and were in great physical condition. And they create a lot of pressure, while we just didn't take our chances."

South American teams have now won three of the last four titles, with Boca Juniors beating AC Milan in 2003 and Sao Paulo downing Liverpool last year.

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