Inter Milan swept aside Asian champion Seongnam Ilhwa 3-0 Wednesday to advance to the Club World Cup final and take some pressure off beleaguered coach Rafa Benitez.
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Benitez, who is believed to need to win the tournament to retain his job, praised the "spirit" of a team that has weathered a number of injuries and a loss of form to drop to seventh in the Serie A standings, 13 points behind leader AC Milan.
Inter will face African champions TP Mazembe in Saturday’s final.
"It’s been a difficult time with a lot of players coming back from injuries," Benitez said. "I could see from the first minute, everyone was concentrating, focused. From the beginning to the end, we were trying to win, trying to score and doing our job."
Inter raced out to the early lead, as Serbian striker Dejan Stankovic jumped over a defender in the area and slotted home a goal in the third minute. The Italian team doubled its lead in the 32nd when a back-heel pass from Diego Milito found defender Javier Zanetti, who scored from point-blank range.
Inter made the game safe through Milito’s 73rd-minute goal after goalkeeper Jung Sung Ryong had parried a shot from Samuel Eto’o.
The only setback for Inter was the injury to midfielder Wesley Sneidjer, who limped off in the opening minutes after a rough tackle. Benitez said he doubts that Sneidjer will play on Saturday.
The K-League champions had their chances but never really threatened. In the first half, striker Radoncic Dzenan’s shot was deflected over goalkeeper Julio Cesar. In the second half, a strike from just outside the area by midfielder Jo Jae Cheol sailed over.
Otherwise, the team that had thrashed Al Wahda 4-1 in the quarterfinals was pensive and its defense was no match for the slick passing and movement of Milito and Eto’o.
Coming into the match, coach Shin Tae Yong predicted his team needed a miracle to win and the lack of confidence showed.
"I want to congratulate Inter Milan. They played well," Shin said. "They are several levels higher than us and were physically stronger than us. When it came to passing, our players couldn’t cover them."
But having praised his team’s opponents, Shin also said the referee "was biased" for allowing several Inter players to get overly physical. He also accused Zanetti of using his hand in the buildup to the third goal.
"We could have been more effective if the referee had done his job," Shin said.
Ahead of the tournament, the Italian media had said a loss for Inter could cost Benitez his job despite only having joined in the offseason on a two-year deal. The Spaniard has struggled to live up to the achievements of predecessor Jose Mourinho, whose team claimed the Champion League in a treble of titles last season and is now with Real Madrid.
But Benitez hasn’t been flustered by the speculation over his future. On Wednesday, he remained as upbeat as he has all season.
"After 25 years as a coach, eight trophies, five finals and two promotions, I know football can be like this," he said of the criticism. "I have confidence in myself, in my staff. The only thing I can do is keep working, don’t read the press and hopefully I will enjoy the final."
The team that took the pitch Wednesday was much improved due to several stars returning from injury, including Milito, defender Cristian Chivu and Cesar.
"It wasn’t easy to play against this team," Chivu said. "We did what we had to do and scored after (three) minutes. We had moments where we delivered and then we closed it with the second and third goal tonight. As a team, we are happy that most of injured players have come back and certainly it changed everything."