By Alastair Himmer
TOKYO (Reuters) – Such is Rafael Benitez’s curse in a loveless marriage at Chelsea that a 6-1 win put his team under even more pressure before they fly out to compete at the Club World Cup in Japan.
Wednesday’s thrashing of Nordsjaelland was in vain as the London club became the first holders of the Champions League to be eliminated at the group stage.
Chelsea visit Sunderland this weekend before their quest for a world title which would ring hollow but could just buy interim coach Benitez a little longer in the hot seat.
Brazil’s Corinthians are expected to meet the dethroned European champions in the final in Yokohama on December 16, barring any embarrassing slip-ups in the semi-finals.
“It gives you the chance to say you’re champions of the world,” Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Oscar said of a 6000-mile trip the Blues hope will offer them some brief refuge.
Chelsea face either South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai or Mexican side Monterrey in Yokohama on December 13.
“Barcelona took it very seriously last year,” added Oscar. We’ll do the same.”
The Barca side who won the trophy in 2009 and 2011 were superior to Chelsea, whose first win in four games under Benitez failed to paper over the cracks of a team short on confidence.
Corinthians, winners of the FIFA Club World Cup’s first edition in 2000, became the Libertadores Cup’s first unbeaten champions since 1978 this year, a fact not lost on Oscar.
“Corinthians are a very strong side, well organised,” he said. “It won’t be easy. They will be desperate to win the World Cup – it’s so important in South America.”
On Wednesday, Benitez was again jeered by Chelsea fans unhappy at the hiring of the former Liverpool manager following Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking, hardly ideal preparation.
However, Fernando Torres, who scored twice on Wednesday to break a two-month goal drought, was sure Chelsea would be ready for the December 6-16 tournament.
“We will prepare mentally,” said the Spain striker. “Hopefully we arrive there with enough time to adapt and be focused to win this tournament and take it seriously.”
Benitez promised Chelsea’s fortunes would improve despite going out of the Champions League.
“At the moment the players are not happy,” he said. “But there is also the feeling they played well and the future can be good.”
In an ironic twist that will not be lost on Chelsea fans, FIFA will use goal-line technology for the first time in an official tournament.
Benitez’s Liverpool beat the Londoners in the 2005 Champions League semi-final through Luis Garcia’s “ghost” goal.
After failing to progress in Europe as holders, Chelsea’s trip to the Far East takes on added significance for the under-fire Benitez.
Another disappointment on top of the fan backlash and it would be little surprise to see owner Roman Abramovich go out and employ a new manager for Christmas.
(Reporting by Alastair Himmer; Editing by Patrick Johnston) Read story