HAPPY HOUR WITH THE BLUES

Chelsea goal

I could not think of anywhere I would rather have been on Thursday than the International Stadium Yokohama for the Blues’ showdown with Club Football de Monterrey in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final.

Unfortunately, due to my work commitments with the Asean regional football championship, which just happened to coincide with the Club World Cup, I had to settle once again for watching the action from Japan on television.

Now given that it’s a nine-hour flight from South-East Asia to the Land of the Rising Sun and the Antarctic-expedition jackets worn by the Corinthians players sitting in the stands suggested fairly frigid conditions in Yokohama, it might not have been too bad a thing that I had missed out on the trip.

Nevertheless there was still a feeling of regret on my part that I could not be present at what was a historic moment – our first ever appearance in the Club World Cup and our first truly competitive match in Asia.

Mock the tournament all you want but it is a gathering of the top clubs from all of the continents and the winners can sing the lines of that old Queen song knowing that they truly are champions of the world.

The good thing about the Club World Cup being played in Japan is that the game kicked-off at an ideal time for us in South-East Asia, right after many of us had knocked off work and were settling down to our dinner.

I gratefully took up the invitation to get together with some fellow Blues fans at a pub in the heart of the Central Business District in Singapore and was heartened to see that many of the hundred or so fans in attendance had ditched their office clothes for their Chelsea kit.

Given the events of the past few weeks, there was a sense of nervousness early on when Hazard, Ivanovic and Oscar all passed up chances to break the deadlock against Monterrey. But that was thankfully alleviated by Juan Mata’s brilliantly constructed opening goal after 17 minutes and the quick two-goal burst after the interval that effectively put the game to bed.

I had endured enough tension the night before while watching Singapore edge the Philippines 1-0 in the semi-finals of the Asean championship so I was quite happy not to have to go through any of that again as the Blues comfortably won 3-1 to set up a meeting in the final with Brazilian side Corinthians.

Speaking of Brazilians, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Thursday’s match was watching our new midfielder David Luiz revelling in his role. He looked right at home there galloping forward into the danger area, spraying the passes around and taking a couple of shots on goal. And for the first time, we could watch him doing all of that with a sense of comfort as we knew that he would not be leaving a yawning chasm in the centre of our defence if he coughed up possession.

And once again, Fernando Torres scored, albeit with the aid of a sizable deflection, for his fifth goal in three games. Maybe Rafa Benitez really does know how to bring out the best in him, after all.

Now, our many detractors (who have had to retreat for the moment to their places in the woodwork) may suggest that we should be scoring a lot of goals and getting wins against the likes of Nordsjaelland, Sunderland and Monterrey. But the potential for embarrassment is always there when you go up against underdogs so I will gladly take those wins which will hopefully see us kick on, put the dreadful memories of the past few weeks behind us and go on to win a trophy or two this year.

A win is a win and it was especially pleasing to see us achieve it so comfortably against two-time continental champions like Monterrey.

I’d certainly take that ahead of losing on penalties to a League Two side in the League Cup.

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