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Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011

Santos ready for duel against mighty Barca


Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Santos manager Muricy Ramalho has vowed to stand up to Barcelona and fight fire with fire in the Club World Cup final on Sunday night.

News photo
Key figure: Striker Neymar steps into the spotlight as Santos takes on Barcelona in Sunday's Club World Cup final. AP PHOTO

South American champions Santos head into the match at Nissan Stadium looking to do what few have been able to manage in recent years and prevent the Spanish heavyweights from adding to their haul of trophies, but Ramalho is determined not to be intimidated by Pep Guardiola's superstars.

Fellow Brazilians Internacional denied Barcelona by defending deep and hitting on the counterattack to win the title in 2006, but Ramalho is urging his players to be bolder despite the presence, among others, of world player of the year Lionel Messi.

"Santos like to pass the ball, we are agile and we use speed and quick movement," the 56-year-old said in Yokohama on Saturday. "We won't change our usual style of play, but it will be a tough game.

"We are playing against the best team in the world. Guardiola is a contender for world manager of the year, and they also have Messi. But we want to be courageous and get the job done."

Santos boasts a huge talent of its own in precocious striker Neymar, and the 19-year-old is relishing the opportunity to further his reputation in front of a worldwide audience.

"Not only me, but for my teammates and for Santos I think it is going to be a historic game," he said. "But I'm not nervous. I'm very calm. Of course the opponents are formidable, but as I always say, I want to play my own game and I will do that tomorrow."

Neymar shrugged off the hype surrounding his personal duel with Messi, but Ramalho is aware his team will have to deal with the mercurial Argentine.

"Of course we need to understand each individual player's characteristics and communicate that to the players," the manager said. "Messi is the best player in the world and it is very difficult to stop him when he has the ball. But the same is true of Neymar."

South American sides have traditionally placed greater value on the world title than their European counterparts, but Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas believes Sunday's final is the "game of the season" for his team.

Fabregas this summer returned to the club where he was raised after making his name as a professional in England with Arsenal, and the midfielder sees parallels between attitudes in his homeland and South America.

"It's true that in England you don't really feel like it's a very important competition," the 24-year-old said. "Even when an English team plays it isn't big news. But in Spain and for the South American clubs it is a very important competition because it means you can say you are the world champion. You can't say that every day of your life.

"It is the game of the season, because you have to win the Champions League to get here. All we want to do is jump on the pitch and do our best."

Guardiola has singled out Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso and Borges for special attention, but the manager is more concerned with how his own players perform.

"They have three players who are far better than the others," Guardiola said. "Neymar, Ganso and Borges are very good players. When you play against them, you need all your players to play well in every position.

"All I can say is that we will try our best. Rather than talk about the strategy, we want to be in control of the game. We are not focused on particular players — we just want to control the ball."

Kashiwa Reysol and Qatar's Al Sadd will contest the third-place playoff before the main event, but Reysol manager Nelsinho has no plans to change his approach after qualifying for the tournament by winning the J. League for the first time earlier this month.

"What's important is to always go for the win," Nelsinho said. "We are here in the Club World Cup and we also have Emperor's Cup matches to play before January. But we are always working hard, our motivation is high and we are all concentrated on winning third place."



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