By Liam Twomey
At the final whistle there were tears, sombre expressions and silver medals, but no real sense of injustice. Chelsea had their chances against Corinthians in Yokohama, and on another day the outcome might have been different, but ultimately their dream of being crowned ‘World Champions’ deserved to die.
The Brazilian giants stifled their European opponents expertly. An athletic, skillful and industrious midfield shackled Ramires, made Frank Lampard look every day of his 34 years and starved the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Victor Moses of enough meaningful possession to make their formidable creative quality count.
They were not entirely successful – Gary Cahill and Fernando Torres missed gilt-edged opportunities while Hazard and Moses were denied by very good Cassio saves – but Chelsea invariably found themselves constantly attacking off the back foot, unable to generate any real momentum or sustained pressure.
At the other end Corinthians appeared for the most part criminally lacking in cutting edge, in spite of the skilful build-up play of Paolo Guerrero and Emerson. Their winner was the culmination of a flowing move and a lucky bounce from Danilo’s blocked shot, but when finally presented with a clear chance and remarkably left unmarked in the penalty area, Guerrero kept his cool.
Chelsea were sloppy throughout. It is hard to tell whether they were jaded, simply below par, or that the unshakable belief in their own sense of destiny which powered last season’s miraculous Champions League triumph had finally become a hindrance rather than a virtue. Any real urgency appeared to be undermined by an expectation that goals and victory would eventually arrive.
The pattern of the game always leaned towards a Corinthians victory and yet, for a man who demonstrably has so much to prove at Stamford Bridge, Rafa Benitez was strangely slow to react. By the time Oscar replaced a faded Victor Moses with 20 minutes to go, the initiative had been well and truly ceded, and the young Brazilian had to try and help his team climb a mountain.
Such desperate times are made for heroes. Just ask Didier Drogba. Fernando Torres is the man Roman Abramovich has tasked with picking up that baton. Seemingly revitalised and boasting five goals in his last three matches, the scene appeared set, but the Spaniard once again fluffed his lines.
False dawns are becoming something of a recurring theme with Torres. First a puddle-assisted goal against West Ham was going to be the spark. Then a hat-trick against QPR. Then the departure of Drogba, and the tandem genius of Mata, Hazard and Oscar in his service. Then the arrival of Benitez. The list goes on, but the long-term result remains the same.
It may well be time to accept that there will be no grand narrative of fall and redemption when it comes to this enigmatic frontman. Torres invariably scores against poor teams and is anonymous or wasteful against better ones. There are worse fates for a striker, but for £50 million Chelsea need more than a flat-track bully.
Beyond Torres, the picture is not disastrous for the Blues. There are many promising elements to this developing team, despite a deserved but slightly unfortunate group stage exit from the Champions League. There are also plenty of goals left to aim for, though only time will tell whether this Club World Cup experience will help or hinder them.
Benitez and his team were lured to Japan by the considerable carrot of adding another prestigious trophy to the growing cabinet at Stamford Bridge. But with great reward often comes great risk. In the light of this defeat, their expedition to the Far East can be seen as little more than a time consuming and morale-sapping distraction.
For Benitez, too, defeat represents a considerable personal setback. Like most top managers, he is primarily motivated by the burning desire to enhance his own reputation with silverware. Yet he is also keenly aware of the wider need for him to deliver trophies, and soon.
Chelsea fans show no sign of forgiving Benitez for his past transgressions, or of submitting to calls to abandon their position of open resistance for the good of the team. He stands no chance of ever being accepted, and only winning will lead to tolerance. Returning from Japan a loser means the Spaniard will almost certainly find the same impossible job he hoped he left behind a week ago.
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