| Real Madrid forward Raul Gonzalez (centre) trains with teammates in Yokohama on Monday. Real play their World Club Cup final against Paraguay’s Olimpia on Tuesday. (AFP)
Yokohama: European champions Real Madrid will be looking to put a poor run of results behind them and cap their centenary year with victory over Olimpia of Paraguay in the World Club Cup on Tuesday.
The Spanish giants, who arrived in Japan with a number of key players still carrying knocks or trying to shake off a ’flu bug, are also determined to put the record straight in Yokohama after losing 1-2 to Argentina’s Boca Juniors two years ago.
Real beat Vasco da Gama of Brazil 2-1 to win the 1998 World Club Cup but victory against Olimpia would give the club a timely boost after a goalless draw with Barcelona and the 0-1 Champions League defeat at AC Milan in the last 10 days.
Coach Vicente del Bosque has played down fitness concerns over Brazil striker Ronaldo (’flu) and captain Fernando Hierro (ankle), although French midfielder Claude Makelele and forward Guti could miss the game with minor injuries.
Ronaldo, who memorably scored twice to give Brazil a 2-0 victory over Germany in the World Cup final in his last appearance at International Stadium, arrived at Narita airport on Friday wrapped in a woolly scarf and a thick dufflecoat.
However, the 26-year-old, who joined Real from Inter Milan for $44 million in September, showed no lingering effects from his bout of ’flu during training over the weekend.
South American champions Olimpia, who, remarkably are also in their centenary year, arrived in Japan more than a week ago to acclimatise and coach Nery Pumpido has a full complement of players available to him.
In attack, Paraguay strikers Richart Baez — who had a spell with J-League club Avispa Fukuoka in 1996 — and Miguel Benitez are both capable of embarrassing the Real defence.
Meanwhile, the influential Uruguayan Sergio Orteman will relish the opportunity of going up against the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo in midfield.
However, Olimpia’s World Club Cup preparations were hit by a 1-3 defeat to J-League second division side Yokohama FC in a practice match on Friday that earned the players a tongue-lashing from Pumpido.
Olimpia, who beat Brazilians Sao Caetano on penalties to win their third Libertadores Cup in July, were beaten 0-3 by AC Milan in 1990 in their only other World Club Cup appearance under the current one-match format.
But Pumpido has warned that underdogs Olimpia would not be overawed by the nine-times European champions.
“Real Madrid are the best team in the world. So what' We have great respect for them but at the same time we are confident we can win. I have said that all along,” said Pumpido, who won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986.
However, Real — currently seventh in La Liga, eight points behind leaders Real Sociedad — will want to make it a full set of international titles in 2002 after lifting the Champions League and the European Super Cup.
The mind games began over the weekend when Brazil defender Roberto Carlos suggested that Real would have “home advantage” in Yokohama.
“We are playing on a ground where Ronaldo and I won the World Cup. The fans know us here and it will feel just like playing at home,” he said.
If either side needed any more incentive, South America and Europe are locked at 11 wins apiece since the two-leg format was replaced by one match in 1981.
Both teams will be desperate to end their centenary years on a high, but Real could just want it that little bit more as they try to get their domestic and Champions League campaigns back on track.
Real Madrid: Iker Casillas; Michel Salgado, Ivan Helguera, Francisco Pavon, Roberto Carlos; Luis Figo, Esteban Cambiasso, Albert Celades, Zinedine Zidane; Raul, Ronaldo.
Olimpia: Ricardo Tavarelli; Nestor Isasi, Pedro Benitez, Nelson Zelaya, Juan Ramon Jara; Sergio Orteman, Julio Cesar Enciso, Julio Cesar Caceres, Gaston Cordoba; Rodrigo Lopez, Miguel Angel Benitez.
Referee: Carlos Eugenio Simon (Brazil).