Gremio used to being underdogs ahead of Fifa Club World Cup semi-final against Pachuca
Brazilian club, who have had a fairytale season by winning the Copa Libertadores, are two matches away from being crowned world club champions
It was been a magical couple of weeks for Gremio as the club from Porto Alegre, Brazil’s ninth biggest city of 1.5 million, were crowned South American champions after winning home and away in the Copa Libertadores final against Argentine side Lanus.
The Libertadores success was Gremio’s third after wins in 1983 and 1995 under Felipe Scolari. Chants and banners of ‘Tri Champion’ have proliferated.
Their manager Renato Portaluppi, in his third spell at the club, became the first Brazilian to win the competition as a player and coach at the same club. He suggested a public holiday in Porto Alegre after the Libertadores win.
The authorities in the port city by the Atlantic in Southern Brazil did not take him up on his suggestion, but the party after the success in Buenos Aires lasted days. Fans of Brazil’s sixth most popular club flooded the streets, and the impressive Gremio Arena, to welcome the team home.
Five thousand of them had travelled to Buenos Aires and up to 3,000 are expected in Abu Dhabi. It would be a lot more but fans had only 10 days to arrange travel to the other side of the world.
Their neighbours and great rivals Internacional took 10,000 to Abu Dhabi in 2010, when Inter hoped to repeat the success of 2006 when they were crowned world champions following a sweet victory over a Barcelona side containing Ronaldinho – a former Gremio player.
It is not only time which will limit the number of Gremistas: Brazil was booming economically in 2010 and the Brazilian currency far stronger than now. Still, no team will have as many travelling supporters in this Fifa World Club Championship as Gremio.
Yet those fans are cautious.
They know they are favourites to play Real Madrid in Saturday’s final but they also know that their neighbours Inter were beaten by Mexican side Pachuca in the semi-final stage in 2010. Pachuca stand in Gremio’s way on Tuesday night at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
Gremio have only been Brazilian champions twice and this was not considered a great side at the start of the year.
They had finished ninth in Brazil last year and only qualified for the Libertadores thanks to a Brazilian cup win. They recently finished fourth in the 2017 league which finished on December 3. But Portaluppi’s side, who usually play a 4-2-3-1 formation, really impressed in the final.
The star players are Arthur, a 21-year-old Andres Iniesta-like midfielder who recently had his first call up to Brazil’s senior squad and has been watched by Barcelona.
Luan, 24, is a striker who this year made his full international debut for Brazil and was voted the best player of the 2017 Libertadores. He scored the second goal in Lanus, dancing around defenders before shooting and running to the delirious away end.
The first goal was even better as veteran Fernandinho broke from his own box, picked up the ball in the middle of his own half, ran past two defenders and shot from the edge of the Lanus area.
Gremio’s goalkeeper, local boy Marcelo Grohe, is excellent and experienced. Ditto central defender Geromel and striker Cicero, 33, who scored the only goal in the first leg of the final.
The older players will not get big-money moves abroad, but they have helped build a platform for the younger players who will.
Porto Alegre is a football city.
Flags of Gremio and Internacional fly everywhere. Both are huge clubs with their own new 50,000 plus capacity stadiums. Both are among the most successful in South America, though Inter are surprisingly in the second division, from where they expect an immediate return.
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Gremio were Inter-Continental champions in 1983, Inter world champions in 2006. Gremio needed 14 games to win the Libertadores and were fortunate to avoid the giants all the way through the competition. Their best win was a 3-0 away victory at Ecuadorian side Barcelona in the semi-final first leg.
Fans prioritised the Libertadores, with average attendances of 50,000 for their final four home games – more than twice their league average.
They need to win their two games in Abu Dhabi to be crowned world champions. It is a tall order, but so was winning the Libertadores.
They have also been world champions before.
Updated: December 12, 2017 04:15 PM