CHELSEA manager Rafael Benitez has vowed to pick his strongest team in this morning’s Club World Cup semi-final against Monterrey, insisting that winning the trophy would make his players’ dreams come true.
The Blues jetted out to Japan in the thick of a gruelling fixture schedule featuring nine matches this month alone, raising the temptation for Benitez to rotate his squad as he battles on four fronts.
The Club World Cup, which pits the champions of football’s six continental confederations, lacks prestige in Britain but is huge elsewhere, particularly in South America, from where a number of Chelsea stars, including David Luiz and Oscar, hail.
And the Spaniard, who lifted the trophy as Inter Milan boss two years ago, insists he will not risk slipping up against the Mexicans and missing out on his third appearance in the final on Sunday.
“I intend to pick a team to win the game,” he said. “You cannot think about the final until you’ve won the semi-final, after all, so we are focusing just on Monterrey. But for us this is a very important tournament.
“I’ve had two opportunities to participate in it before so I know the meaning of it, but I’ve heard some of my players saying they have been dreaming of winning this tournament. That is what we want to do.”
Stalwart Frank Lampard is in contention after returning from a six-week lay-off in Saturday’s win at Sunderland, but captain John Terry remains injured and midfielder Oriol Romeu has been ruled out for six months.
Chelsea’s first match of the Club World Cup, having enjoyed a bye into the last four, is at the same Yokohama stadium where Benitez’s Liverpool lost the final 1-0 to Sao Paulo in 2005. He fared better two years ago, when Inter beat Congo’s TP Mazembe in the final in Abu Dhabi, although he was still sacked by the Italian club just five days later after only six months in charge.
Once again he arrives at the tournament with his future uncertain, having endured a rocky start to his stint as interim Chelsea boss, only winning his first match seven days ago and at the fourth attempt.
It would be enough to keep Benitez awake at night, were he and his players not already suffering jetlag-induced insomnia that threatens to give an edge to Monterrey, who have been in Japan for 12 days and already beaten Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea.
“My main focus so far, and that of my players, has been to try and sleep more than four hours,” he said.
“It’s quite difficult. We’ve tried to adapt to the time difference, as well as the pitches here and the ball. It’s all a bit new, but we’ve done everything we have to do.”
Brazil’s Corinthians, the South American champions, lie in wait in the final after beating African kings Al-Ahly, of Egypt, 1-0 yesterday, although Benitez is already thinking beyond that.
The transfer window reopens next month and Chelsea are considering recruiting a midfielder, following the serious knee injury to Romeu, who Benitez had earmarked for a key role. He said: “The club is working and always looking for good players, so we’ll see if there are any surprises.”