SAO PAULO – Gremio arrive at the Club World Cup hoping to avoid the early exits that befell South American teams in recent editions but the Copa Libertadores champions do not lack confidence in their ability to lift the trophy for the second time.
Gremio won the Intercontinental Cup, the forerunner to this week’s tournament, in 1983 when they beat Hamburg SV 2-1.
The man who scored both their goals that day is now the club coach and Renato Portaluppi, a man who unabashedly claims he was a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo, has installed the same swagger in his side.
Gremio won the Libertadores last month by beating Lanus home and away and they enter the Club World Cup against the winner of the Pachuca (Mexico) versus Wyad Casablanca (Morocco) quarter-final.
The tournament has been a minefield for South American sides in recent times, with three of the last seven Libertadores winners falling at the penultimate stage.
Club captain Pedro Geromel, however, told Reuters the Porto Alegre side are conscious of those errors and are not getting ahead of themselves.
“The other teams are there on their own merit and they are there to compete,” said the 32-year old centre half. “Our primary focus right now is on the semi-final. We won the Libertadores by keeping our feet on the ground and we’re going to stay that way.”
Gremio plays a style of football that is in keeping with the direct and no-nonsense culture of southern Brazil.
More than perhaps any other side in the South American nation, bar league champions Corinthians, they have perfected the passing and pressing game and like to hit opponents on the break.
Central to that philosophy are bustling midfielders Arthur, who has caught the attention of Barcelona and Chelsea; Michel, who was one of three Gremio players chosen by sportswriters for the Serie A team of the year; and 33-year old Fernandinho, who provides an old head in the centre of the park.
Arthur will miss the tournament because of an injury sustained in the Libertadores final and so the spotlight will fall even more brightly on their main attraction, 24-year old attacking midfielder Luan.
Luan helped guide Brazil to their first Olympic soccer gold last year and his swift movement and deft passes won him the Copa Libertadores’ Player of the Tournament award last month.
Behind their typically robust defence is keeper Marcelo Grohe, whose semi-final save against Barcelona of Ecuador was widely compared to Gordon Banks’s famous stop against Pele in the 1970 World Cup.