Flamengo desperate to pip Liverpool to Club World Cup crown

A recent article in the Guardian declared the Club World Cup to be superfluous to Liverpool's season. That might be the view from Britain, but no one in South America sees the tournament as unnecessary. Indeed, the Club World Cup comes top of most teams' wish list.

Part of the appeal of winning the Copa Libertadores is that it brings with it the chance to represent the continent and have a crack at the holders of Europe's Champions League. Flamengo of Brazil are fixated, obsessed. And this year's occasion has become even bigger because the likely opponents in the Club World Cup final will be Liverpool. The only previous time that Flamengo won the Libertadores was back in 1981 -- which was followed up with a 3-0 win in Japan over the European champions: Liverpool.

If there is to be a rematch next Saturday, then both sides must first win their semifinal. Flamengo will almost certainly be hoping that Liverpool beat Monterrey on Wednesday. It would be easier for Flamengo to win the world title against the Mexicans, but the triumph would lose some of its heroism. Mexican teams have such a dismal record in the competition, and the European champions have always breezed through the semifinal. There is always the chance of an upset, but there is no doubt that Liverpool are very strong favourites.

Tuesday's semifinal between Flamengo and Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia might be tighter. Ever since the current format was introduced in 2005, the South American side have always found this to be a difficult match and there have been times, including two of the last three years, when they have fallen at this stage.

There are two explanations. One is that it presents a tough challenge from a psychological point of view. The dream is always to face the Europeans in the decider. In the semifinal, then, the South Americans are so close to paradise, but with so much to lose, and are nervous and inhibited as a result.

The other is that in recent times the South American champions are not really built to attack, and find it hard when they are obliged to take the initiative in the game. There is something in this. Since 2005 there have been three South American club world champions: The Brazilian trio of Sao Paulo (2005), Internacional (2006) and Corinthians (2012). Come the final they all recognized the superiority of their opponent (respectively Liverpool, Barcelona and Chelsea), defended deep and won the game with a single break out. They were more comfortable doing this than taking the game to the opposition in the semifinal.

But that would hardly seem to apply to the current Flamengo side, who have played such captivating, swashbuckling football over the last few months in which Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus has been in charge.

In the 15 years of the current format of the Club World Cup, Flamengo would seem to be the South American team best equipped to carry the fight to their opponents -- which opens up new possibilities, and also some risks.

The great possibility is that the quality of the spectacle this year will be much higher. One of the big problems of the tournament is that the games have not been of any great interest to the neutral. The history of the Club World Cup has been marked since 2005 by comfortable European wins punctuated by the occasional war of attrition. Rarely if ever, and never in the final, have two top class teams been looking to attack each other. That could change this year.

The risk, though, is that by not focusing almost exclusively on defence, Flamengo could leave themselves worryingly open against opponents of more quality than their domestic rivals. That would certainly apply against Liverpool. It may even be the case against Al Hilal, who showed some organization and flashes of attacking flair in Saturday's 1-0 win over African champions Esperance of Tunisia.

What has made Flamengo so revolutionary in Brazil this year is their use of a high defensive line, pressuring the opponent in their half of the field, and ensuring that the team are sufficiently compact for the team's dangerous front four to fire together. The high line, though, comes with obvious risks. The team leave a lot of space behind their centre-backs. When it goes wrong, it can do so in spectacular fashion.

But if Flamengo lack courage and decide to defend deeper, they lose much of their attacking essence. Can they reproduce their domestic form at the Club World Cup? The evidence of the last few months suggests that they might be primarily a domestic phenomenon, an attractive antidote to the caution that has held a grip on Brazilian football in recent times. Twice they came up against foreign opponents in the knockout stages of the Libertadores -- Emelec of Ecuador in the second round and Argentina's River Plate in the final. Against neither were they fully convincing.

So what can they do against Al Hilal? And then, assuming everything goes to plan, against Liverpool in the final? In 15 years, the Club World Cup has rarely come up with more interesting questions.