YOKOHAMA — Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson insists his side is going all-out for Club World Cup glory this week, but is taking nothing for granted ahead of Thursday’s semifinal clash with Gamba Osaka.
A place in the final of FIFA’s intercontinental club competition awaits the winner of the match at Yokohama International Stadium, but Ferguson knows Gamba will be no pushover after seeing Akira Nishino’s men down Adelaide United 1-0 in last Sunday’s quarterfinal.
Ferguson has identified playmaker Yasuhito Endo and striker Lucas as Gamba’s danger men, but knows his side will be helped by injuries to attackers Takahiro Futagawa and Hayato Sasaki.
“I watched the video of the game against Adelaide and I think we have a good analysis through that because it was a serious game and these are the best to watch,” Ferguson said on Tuesday.
“Endo is a star player. He scored the goal of course, and they changed his position from where he plays in behind the center forward when they lost two players, but he still was the influential player.
“The Brazilian center forward (Lucas) is also a very good player, and he is tall with quick feet which is unusual from a Brazilian, and he’s very effective. The two players who are injured will miss the game on Thursday and they are good players also, so they’re going to miss two good players.”
Thursday’s match will mark the first time United has met a J. League side in meaningful competition, but Ferguson believes the European champion’s numerous tours of Japan will prove to be a useful testing ground.
“Over the years we have played Urawa Reds twice and we found them very difficult because they play with great energy and enthusiasm,” he said.
“It’s obvious there has been a tremendous improvement in the technical ability and the organizational ability of the teams. It’s a young country as far as football is concerned, and it’s an up-and-coming country and they are producing some very good footballers now.
“So we expect a very, very difficult game on Thursday, and one which I hope we can navigate properly.”
European clubs have often been accused of treating the Club World Cup and its forerunners with disdain, considering the trip to Japan an inconvenience in the middle of a hectic schedule at home.
Ferguson agrees the format requires some adjustments, but is prepared to jeopardize his side’s chances of retaining its Premier League title for the sake of the world crown.
“The world has grown, but there has to be a better balance,” he said.
“A world championship tournament has to be viewed from our perspective as a serious tournament in the sense of it’s an extra game for us and the South American team.
“But the prestige attached to it is greater now, I think, than the one-off game. In 30 years time you look back and see Manchester United world champions, and that to me is what our club is about. That’s why it’s important to win it.
“We can win the world championship in December but we can’t win the Premier League in December. It’s time to do that and hopefully we can. Yes it is a little bit of a handicap (for the Premier League title), but that’s what happens when you’re successful.
“As far as I’m concerned, the incentives outweigh without any questions whatever happens in the Premier League.”
But while Ferguson has no qualms about flying to Asia for this particular tournament, his enthusiasm does not stretch as far as the Premier League’s plans for a “39th round” on foreign soil.
In February, Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore first mooted the idea of English clubs adding an extra game to their regular-season schedule to be played at various locations around the globe.
The proposal was met with widespread outrage before scurrying back underground, but Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam sounded a conciliatory note last week, saying it deserved further consideration.
Ferguson, however, is in no doubt where his feelings lie.
“Certainly I’m not in favor of it,” he said. “If you look at our domestic program allied to our cup competitions, I think it’s impossible.
“I don’t think there will ever be a 39th game. I don’t believe there should be.”