Luiz savors test against idols
David Luiz is bracing himself for a one-sided Club World Cup final against his boyhood idols on Sunday – but only in the stands.
Chelsea go into this weekend’s clash with Corinthians as firm favourites to add a first world title to their maiden European crown after cruising through their semi-final against Monterrey.
Sunday’s opponents, meanwhile, made worryingly hard work of beating Al-Ahly in their own semi 24 hours earlier.
The South American champions will walk out at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama this weekend boosted by the backing of up to 30,000 of Luiz’s fellow supporters, the kind of diehard following of which his current club can only dream.
But the Chelsea star had no fears about any mismatch in the stands, insisting anything was better than the ghostly atmosphere that permeated Friday’s game in a half-empty ground.
"It will be nice," said Luiz, who interim manager Rafael Benitez must decide whether to keep in midfield or move back into defence on Sunday.
"I don’t like to play in empty stadiums. I guess nobody likes it."
The ground would have been even emptier but for Corinthians fans making up the numbers and chanting their own team’s name during a match they were not even involved in.
The atmosphere certainly did not help Chelsea as they struggled to maintain a consistent tempo against a team who offered little resistance.
Interim manager Rafael Benitez was unhappy with his side’s slackness, warning it could cost them dearly on Sunday.
Chelsea can take confidence from the fact the last five Club World Cup winners have come from Europe, something that suggests South America is still playing catch-up.
But Luiz is not so sure. The Brazil star said: "I know the teams in Brazil, and the league.
"I feel it’s now far more similar to the Premier League because you never know who is going to win.
"Last season, there were two, three, four teams who could have won the title.
"Teams are stronger. Brazilian football has developed a lot more tactically, learned from Europe."
He added: "Ten years, ago you wouldn’t have seen teams playing in two lines or between the lines, 4-4-2.
"It was always 4-2-2-2 and that didn’t change.
"They have adapted their games and the game is quicker and harder.
"It’s not just the Brazilian teams, because you have teams in Argentina and other countries.
"The Club World Cup is an opportunity for them to show they have the qualities of European teams."
Indeed, this tournament and its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup, has always meant far more to South American teams than those from Europe.
"It’s the last game of the season so people give it a lot of importance," Luiz said.
"They’ve been talking about this competition for six months.
"Every day, you have people in the club talking about this competition and how much they want to win it.
"Although, we want to win it as well. It’s a title, a title Chelsea have never won, so we want to win it because it would be good for us for the rest of the season."
Had he not moved to Stamford Bridge, Luiz would doubtless have been cheering on Corinthians on Sunday.
He did just that in 2000 when they won the one-off Club World Championship in Brazil, the precursor to the current tournament.
"I remember it was good in 2000," said Luiz, who was a youth player at arch-rivals Sao Paulo at the time.
"I saw the final when Corinthians beat Vasco Da Gama, two teams with real quality.
"It was good for me to watch the game and the big teams, because Real Madrid were there as well as Manchester United."
He added: "I was a Corinthians fan, yes. Of course, now I’m a Chelsea fan!
"I saw a lot of Corinthians game but now I am a professional, a Chelsea player, so I know what I have to do."