Thursday, December 10, 2009

Steelers Set For World Challenge

Steelers Set For World Challenge.
Barcelona and Pohang. One is a seductive Spanish city by the deep blue sea of the Mediterranean where locals and tourists alike wander down La Ramblas and gawp at Gaudi’s Cathedral, the other is an industrial city on the south-east coast of South Korea dominated by POSCO’s massive steel factory.

It is a harsh comparison to be honest. Few places on this planet compare favorably to the host of the 1992 Olympics and in Pohang’s defense, industrial backdrops often provide foundations for success in the beautiful game.

Barcelona and Pohang’s paths haven’t come close to crossing on the football field but that is about to change. There is a chance that two teams could meet in Abu Dhabi over the next few days at FIFA's Club World Cup. The annual tournament, which runs from December 9 to 19, sees the champions of each continent do battle for the prize of club world champions.

Pohang’s head coach Sergio Farias, who led the K-League team to the Asian title in November, is looking forward to the competition but not making any wild predictions.
"We’ve managed to win at least one trophy each year so far. Now that we’ve won everything in Korea, the Asian Champions League, and we’re taking part in the Club World Cup," said the Brazilian last week.

"Honestly I don’t think we’re capable of winning the competition at the moment, but I think it’s possible for us to win it someday. Nobody knows the limit in football, and anything can happen. In Pohang, we have a very good side and we’re aiming at a higher level. It would be foolish to underestimate us, because we are the champions of Asia.

Such a match would end what has been a very good year for Korean football and it is a game that all Korean fans and the nation’s media are desperate to see. If so, it would be the third successive year that the Asian champion met its European counterpart.

In the 2008 version of the annual competition, Manchester United took on Gamba Osaka to win 5-3. Last May, Barcelona defeated Manchester United to win the 2009 UEFA Champions League and the Catalonia club is largely recognized at the best in the world at the moment.

Messi.


With players like Argentine star Lionel Messi, Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, French forward Thierry Henry as well as Spanish internationals such as Xavi Hernandes and Andres Iniesta, this is a team that inspires fear, for its prowess, and affection, for the way it plays the beautiful game, in equal measure.

The problem for Pohang is that it can’t meet Barcelona until the final and while the road to that game isn’t far, it is also not easy.

The champions of Africa and then South America stand in the way. The Steelers start out against Congo club TP Mazembe on December 11. If the team from Lubumbashi is defeated then comes a semifinal against South America’s best club team Estudiantes de La Plata.

If the Steelers can put the Argentines to the sword then a chance to face Barcelona, assuming the Spanish team makes it through its semi-final (which will be against either Auckland City of New Zealand or Atlante of Mexico)

One thing is Pohang’s favour is that if it makes the final, the number of games that Barcelona has played recently - and another journey far from Spain, after chilly trips in the Champions League to Russia and Ukraine - could count against the European team.

It is probably a vain hope but for Pohang, it is all about getting there. Playing Barcelona in a meaningful game and not in a commercial exhibition match would make headlines all over Korea and Asia.

"Our South American and European counterparts may enter the tournament at the semi-final stage, but we’ve got some players who are more than capable of competing in the leagues in South America and Europe,” added Farias.

"We don’t want this big opportunity to pass us by. We will give our all to achieve as much as we can."

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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