Santos and Monterrey dream of World Club glory
While Barcelona could be forgiven for considering the Club World Cup as little more than an inconvenience, Latin American duo Santos and Monterrey are dreaming of glory in Japan.
Barca are more interested in catching bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, but in Brazil the Club World Cup has always been a huge event.
This is the one chance for South American clubs to test themselves against Europe's finest in a competitive environment, and Santos -- who beat Penarol in the final to lift the Copa Libertadores in June -- are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sao Paulo and Internacional to become Brazil's third winners.
Santos and Barcelona are seeded to meet in the final on Sunday, December 18 but, perhaps inevitably, media in Brazil are building the competition up to be a showdown, not between the two clubs, but between their outstanding players, the Brazilian Neymar and the Argentine Lionel Messi.
Santos legend Pele, for one, is in no doubt as to who is better.
"Comparing the two individually, I think Neymar is much better, more complete," he said.
"Messi is great, but he relies a lot on his team-mates. That is why he does so well for Barcelona but struggles playing for Argentina.
"Neymar plays well for Santos and for Brazil."
Muricy Ramalho's Santos side are probably the strongest South American team to take part in the Club World Cup since its inception, having warded off significant interest from Real Madrid to hold on to Neymar, and with the likes of Elano and Paulo Henrique Ganso also staying put.
They endured an inconsistent season in their domestic league, hindered by international call-ups to the Copa America and the under-20 World Cup.
However, their performances also hinted that they have been saving themselves for Japan, and that could give them an edge over Barcelona.
Monterrey, meanwhile, are hoping to become the first Mexican club to win the competition.
Mexico has contributed more teams -- seven in eight editions -- to the Club World Cup than any other country, but the best performance by a Mexican side came in 2000, when Necaxa finished third.
However, Monterrey have been inconsistent since winning their Opening Championship crown in 2010 and then the CONCACAF Champions League in April, when they beat Real Salt Lake 3-2 on aggregate.
Since then, the Club World Cup has become an obsession for Los Rayados (The Stripes), much as it has been for Santos.
As a result, they performed poorly in the Opening Championship, finishing 11th in the regular season to miss out on a place in the playoffs for the title.
Coach Victor Manuel Vucetich has quality at his disposal, though, including Chile star Suazo, and Argentine former Lyon midfielder Cesar Delgado, and he believes his side will not freeze on the big stage.
"This is a very important step in our careers because we will be competing against some massive teams, huge clubs on the international stage. This will help us a lot," said the 56-year-old Vucetich.
Monterrey enter the competition at the quarter-final stage, where they will face either New Zealand outsiders Auckland City or J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol.
Victory would set up a mouthwatering semi-final showdown with Santos, with the potential prospect of European champions Barcelona waiting in the final.
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