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Unlikely hero Crouch gives World Club Championship much-needed tonic

Unlikely hero Crouch gives World Club Championship much-needed tonic

Hard as it is to picture Peter Crouch in a superhero's mask and knee-length boots, the gangly striker was the toast of FIFA this week.

His double strike in Liverpool's 3-0 win over Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa on Thursday helped save FIFA's new-look Club World Championship from slipping off the radar.

FIFA chief Sepp Blatter might want to drop a sackful of Christmas presents off at Anfield on his way home from Japan by way of "thank you" to Liverpool.

Liverpool slayed the "Purple Monsters" of Saprissa to go through to today's final against South American champions Sao Paulo in Yokohama.

Another boost for Blatter and FIFA was a healthy crowd of 44,000 following poor supporter turnout during the tournament's opening matches.

There had been swathes of empty seats visible for the curtain-rasing match between Egypt's Al Ahly and Saudi side Al Ittihad last weekend.

Even Sao Paulo's labored 3-2 win over Asian champions Ittihad in midweek was far short of a sellout.

Without a Japanese team involved, it fell to Liverpool to play the role of caped crusaders, rescuing a tournament of patchy quality with a dominant display against Saprissa.

Liverpool had arrived in Japan having already played 29 matches this season but, to FIFA's obvious relief, doubts over the team's level of motivation proved ill-founded.

"Liverpool's professionalism was wonderful," Blatter told Reuters. "In the last minute Saprissa had a corner and Liverpool had all eleven men back defending."

The five-times European champions had good reason. Thursday's win set a new club record of 11 successive clean sheets, surpassing the mark of Kenny Dalglish's title winners of 1987-88.

Crouch, though, acknowledged Liverpool had felt extra pressure after the tournament's low-key start.

"There was big expectation," said the England striker. "We all felt that a little bit. I think everyone thought we were the favorites...but we went in and did a professional job.

"It's another trophy and it would be superb to win it. A club like Liverpool wants to win things and this is no different."

FIFA has pinned their faith on the revamped Club World Championship after a poor tournament in Brazil in 2000 and the cancelation of the next tournament in Spain in 2001 due to lack of sponsors after the collapse of marketing partner ISMM/ISL.

For all the enthusiasm of the participants, however, the opening matches did little to raise the pulse rate, nor did they manage to capture the imagination of Japanese fans.

Al Ahly's remarkable 55-match unbeaten run was brought to a shuddering halt by a goalkeeping error in a 1-0 defeat by Ittihad while Saprissa beat Sydney FC by the same score in a match that had all the appeal of a Sunday pub league fixture.

Blatter has got the final he desperately wanted for the tournament's latest incarnation. Any other would have been a major embarrassment for FIFA.

Soccer's governing body is confident of seeing the tournament's first capacity crowd in today's final.

"We expected Liverpool to be in the final," said Blatter. "They are one of the dominating clubs in the world. If they had met someone else in the final it would still be a sellout."

After the preamble, today's clash is a glamour fixture worthy of the tournament's name.

Sao Paulo raised the stakes before the match, with their coach Paulo Autuori dismissing Liverpool as a "long ball" team.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has carefully avoided entering into mind games. His team has now played 1,015 minutes since last conceding a goal in a shock 2-1 defeat by Crystal Palace in the third round of the English League Cup on October 15.

Updated : 2021-04-23 19:55 GMT+08:00