Santos eye Barcelona showdown

Santos coach Muricy Ramalho said on Friday that his Copa Libertadores winners are in peak condition to take on what he called “the best team in the world” at the Club World Cup.

The Brazilians are widely tipped to face Barcelona in the December 18 final of the seven-team intercontinental showpiece in Japan which has always been viewed as a huge event back home.

“We have played so many matches this season already,” said the 56-year-old Ramalho, who joined Santos in April, weeks after leaving Fluminense, and led them to Libertadores glory in June.

“Towards the end of the Brazilian championship we had to rest the players to prevent injury and fatigue and there was a lot of travelling in Brazil.

“But right now we don’t have any problems physically or mentally.”

Spanish champions Barcelona were the benchmark, he said, but acknowledged that there was immense pressure on his side, which boasts the highly talented Neymar in its ranks, to return to Brazil with the Club World Cup crown.

‘Best in the world’
“Santos is a big club that always needs to win and needs to win the title,” he told a packed media conference shortly after the Brazilians touched down in Japan.

“You always have to win. If you win today but lose tomorrow, you are sacked.

“But of course Barcelona is the best team in the world. The structure, organisation and facilities are the best in the world.”

Neymar (19) who will spearhead the Santos assault, said he hoped his side would put on a show for Japanese football fans.

“We are an attacking side and an aggressive team,” said the striker, who has been eyed by the top clubs in Europe. “Our players are very capable and have a very high level of quality.”

Before Santos think of Barcelona, they must on Wednesday get past either Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol or Monterrey of Mexico, in what is a potential banana skin for South America’s finest.

Comfortable win
Ramalho said he expected Kashiwa, who have their very own Brazilian coach in Nelsinho, to beat Monterrey after the newly crowned J-League winners eased into the next round with a comfortable 2-0 win over Auckland City on Thursday.

“Kashiwa didn’t show their full potential, I thought they held back,” said Ramalho, who as a player won the Brazilian title with Sao Paulo and was also a champion in Mexico with Puebla.

“I thought they held back so I’m waiting to see the real potential of the team,” he added.

Elano, the international midfielder who has been plagued recently by injury, said concentration was key at a tournament he branded “the most important in my life”.

“A small mistake can have a huge implication,” was his warning to the more junior members of the Santos squad. — AFP

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