Firstly, a word of apology to my readers. I was caught up in a whirlwind of university work this week, and so was unable to offer my thoughts on Internacional's shock Club World Cup loss to TP Mazembe. Sometimes, unfortunately, the real world crashes into my glorious Brazilian football utopia. Inter recovered some of their pride yesterday, with a convincing victory over Asian champions Seongnam, but will likely now face up to a transitional period ahead of the 2011 season.
Before this year's competition, there had never been a final of the Mundial without a South American representative. The Colorado travelled to the Middle East with the expectation of maintaining that record, and were hopeful of overcoming near-namesakes Internazionale to become the fourth Brazilian side to win the Cup in its current format. Having used the last few rounds of the Brasileirão to experiment with personnel and formation, there can be little doubt that coach Celso Roth was prioritising the competition, and players such as Alecsandro and Oscar declaring their excitement ahead of the trip. All of Inter's preparation, however, was to prove insufficient in their semi-final clash with the wonderfully-named Tout Puissant ('all-powerful') Mazembe, the African champions.
Roth set his side up to attack; Tinga and D'Alessandro were to provide support for strikers Alecsandro and Rafael Sobis, whilst full-backs Kléber and Nei also had a largely attacking remit. Inter duly dominated the first half, and were only denied by a stunning performance from Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba. The veteran stopper pulled off a string of fine saves, the best of which thwarted Rafael Sobis, who looked destined to score from close range. The second period brought more frustration for Inter; they went behind to Mulota Kabangu's stunning volley, and struggled to create clear-cut chances.. The Porto Alegre side were then dealt a knockout blow in the 85th minute, when dynamic winger Dioko Kaluyituka cut inside his marker and fired past Renan. The final whistle confirmed a landmark success for African football, and a bitter disappointment for Inter.
The Colorado players were understandably distraught; Rafael Sobis, for instance, admitted on his Twitter account that he didn't sleep the following night, and broke down into tears on a couple of occassions. The Brazilian media, meanwhile was busy pressing the panic button; speculating that Roth and a host of first-team players (Alecsandro, Guiñazú, D'Alessandro) could leave the Beira-Rio.
Roth and Alecsandro will hope to have secured their short-term futures in the victory over Seongnam. The burly striker, who has at times looked out of place among Inter's technically-gifted squad, netted two goals and set up the opener for Tinga. He will want to remain ahead of young forward Leandro Damião in the striking pecking order, and must hope that the club's reported interest in forwards Luís Fabiano (Sevilla), Zé Roberto (Vasco), and Everton (Tigres) fails to materialise. Roth, meanwhile, despite rumours that he could be replaced by Atlético-MG boss Dorival Júnior, will be encouraged by the (relative) patience that the Porto Alegre club tend to have with their coaches.
There may be, however, some truth surrounding the rumours about Guiñazú and D'Alessandro, two Argentines who have become firm favourites at the Beira-Rio. Guiñazú has been linked with São Paulo, who have long been admirers of the defensive midfielder. A renewed effort on their part to prize the defensive midfielder away from the Colorado looks likely. D'Alessandro, meanwhile, has suggested that he may be open to a return to his home country should River Plate come in for him. The departure of this pair would undoubtedly leave a significant hole in Inter's midfield engine room.
Luckily for Inter's fans, though, the club remains in a strong position to cope with such uncertainty. Youngsters like Giuliano, Damião, and Oscar are beginning to stamp their mark on the first team, and will be aided by the experience of Sobis, Tinga, and captain Bolívar. Some rebuilding of the first team may well be necessary ahead of the 2011 campaign, then, but we shouldn't read too much into the upset at the hands of Mazembe. Inter will remain a force in next season's Libertadores, and will also be confident of mounting a (recently all-too-infrequent) Série A challenge.
(Photo credit; VIPCOMM.)