YOKOHAMA, Japan (AFP) – Rafael Benitez said Saturday Chelsea had put the disappointment of being knocked out of the Champions League behind them, on the eve of a mouthwatering Club World Cup final against Corinthians.
The English giants became the first European champions to be dumped out at the group stage, just days before they jetted off to Japan for a semi-final clash against Monterrey in their debut appearance at the intercontinental event.
“Before the Monterrey match, I was a bit concerned that going out of the Champions League would have a negative impact,” Benitez said.
“It took a good few days, but we recovered from that shock.
“It may motivate the squad because now we have an opportunity to win the Club World Cup and that’s very good for us,” the Spaniard added.
Chelsea outclassed the Mexican side in Thursday’s semi-final 3-1 but Benitez, who took over from Champions League-winning coach Roberto Di Matteo last month, expects a far tougher match against the Copa Libertadores winners in Sunday’s final at Yokohama’s International Stadium.
“When we talk about Brazilian clubs I have to mention their very good quality,” the 52-year-old said.
“They have a very good system, are well organised and know what to do.
“Corinthians… are very defensive, it will be difficult to create opportunities and the match will be very tough,” he added.
“They have a lot of good players, not just (midfielder) Paulinho, I like Cassio, the goalkeeper.
“They are a team who are compact and they have players who can make a difference, so hopefully we can keep them quiet.
“It’s hard to find faults, but let’s talk about how good they are after tomorrow’s match.”
Benitez, only three weeks into his caretaker role at Chelsea, is the first manager to take three different sides to a Club World Cup final — losing with Liverpool in 2005 and triumphing with Italy’s Inter Milan in 2010.
He goes into the final hoping a win will placate those Chelsea fans who still harbour a grudge from his time as Liverpool manager and have continued to boo him during matches since his appointment.
Benitez was sacked just five days after lifting the Club World Cup with Inter and refused to speculate whether a win with Chelsea would help his contract be extended past its current six months.
“My priority is to win. If we can, we will see what the next step is,” he said.
“My job is to do as well as possible on the pitch, improve the team, and if we win trophies that will be even better.”