Long Reads

Corinthians: How They Became Champions of the World

In 2012, Corinthians weren’t stopping at continental glory after beating Boca Juniors in the final of the Copa Libertadores and ending the hoodoo of never winning South America’s largest competition.

The Club World Cup in Yokohama, Japan was five months away and it would be the only opportunity that this special team would get to test itself against a European side. After winning the Champions League against Bayern Munich, Chelsea could be the potential side that Corinthians could play if both sides won their semi-finals.

Al-Ahly of Egypt (winners of the CAF Champions League) would be Corinthians’ opponents in the semi-final. Peruvian forward Paolo Guerrero had joined in the summer from Hamburg and Tite had changed the formation back to a 4-2-3-1 with Guerrero up front on his own.

After Al-Ahly were seen off comfortably 1-0 in the semi-final, Corinthians were now able to have one of the biggest games in their history. 30,000 fans had travelled from São Paulo to see this, the Fiel weren’t going to miss out on this match. The players had treated like legends since their Libertadores victory now had the chance to become gods.

It was a good time to play Chelsea as well. Despite their Champions League title, the English side wasn’t in a great place. Roberto Di Matteo had been sacked despite winning the trophy and Rafael Benítez was taking a while to adapt to the job. If Corinthians were to beat a European side, there wouldn’t be a better chance than to beat a Chelsea side in transition.

Although there was a throwaway attitude towards the tournament in some areas of the UK press, to say that Chelsea didn’t care was simply not true. David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar, three Brazillian players in the Chelsea squad, wanted to desperately win the trophy. A professional football side doesn’t travel halfway across the world to play in a competition and then doesn’t care about it once they’ve started to play. It mattered to them.

Corinthians took the game by the scruff of the neck. The drive and sweat that they had wasn’t matched by Chelsea. This wasn’t a side that was camped inside their own box. Sure, Tite still played a defensive style but it was one that had the intention to chase the ball down and attack on the counter, not to hang on for penalties for 120 minutes.

Benítez had completely underestimated the strength of the double pivot that had served Corinthians throughout their run in the Libertadores so well. Ralf and Paulinho bossed the midfield and were comfortably winning the battle against Ramires and Frank Lampard.

The defence that had been so strong in the Libertadores also helped on the night in Yokohama. Cássio had kept Corinthians in the game in the first half after his magnificent save from Gary Cahill’s shot from a Chelsea corner. Victor Moses was also denied from just outside the box with a curling effort that Cássio was at full reach to palm away.

Just like every other side, Corinthians had played in the Libertadores, Chelsea were starting to get frustrated with not being able to break down the low block that had been so effective in Corinthians’ road to the final.

As Chelsea started to try and create more chances, they left more space open for Corinthians to hit them on the counter. Emerson hit the post in the first half after a long throw from Alessandro and that should’ve been the chance that made Benítez switch things up.

Chelsea continued to give Corinthians more space to hit them on the break and were eventually punished for it. 20 minutes from the end of regular time, Paulinho picked up the ball from Chicão in midfield and played a one-two with Jorge Henrique. After quickly receiving the ball back, Paulinho dribbled the ball out wide into the box and found Danilo. Danilo cut inside with his left foot to create an opening and his attempt was deflected off Gary Cahill and into the path of Guerrero. The Peruvian headed home from inside the six yard box past the three Chelsea defenders on the line, to make it 1-0.

The unthinkable was now a genuine possibility. Corinthians just needed to make sure they didn’t get carried away and contained Fernando Torres and Juan Mata from creating any openings. If Tite could get his team to contain Neymar for 90 minutes, then an out of form Torres that hadn’t been involved much in the game, shouldn’t have been an issue.

Torres missed an absolute sitter for Chelsea. Two minutes from time, César Azpilicueta’s long throw had managed to pinball its way around the penalty area and had found Torres six yards from goal. Torres’ poor effort was kicked away by Cássio.

Corinthians’ strong defence weren’t going to let Chelsea have another clear-cut opportunity to equalise. Torres’ had another effort that did find its way past Cássio but was ruled out for offside.

The time wasting was being used to full-effect now from Corinthians. With minutes to go, the ball was starting to enter the corner and throw-ins were taking an age to be completed. It worked a treat though, Cahill got frustrated and got a second yellow for a kick on Emerson.

Several moments later for what must have seemed an eternity for the Corinthians fans, Cüneyt Çakır put his mouth to his whistle. Corinthians were champions of the world for the second time.

Boyhood Corinthians fan, David Luiz dropped to the grass in tears. The other Chelsea players were crestfallen. Especially Ramires and Oscar (who was also annoyed at being dropped for the final)

Corinthians had done something that was incredible. Not only had they ended their hoodoo with the Libertadores, they had also become the 2nd club in Brazil to pick up the Club World Cup. The financial might that Europe has still wasn’t enough to beat the compact and counter-attacking force that Tite had assembled.

“This was a real battle between the third world and the first world. For our people, for our fans, who have a difficult life, it’s so important to show the world we can beat teams like this. And that we can be the best in the world. Just once.” – Paulo Andre.

After 2012, Corinthians have never been able to repeat their success. A new move to the Arena Corinthians that was built for the 2014 World Cup has drained the club’s finances and they haven’t been able to compete as a result.

By James Young @Jamesyoungtv

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