Chelsea’s second potential opponents in the semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup were decided this weekend and Roberto Di Matteo has also been speaking about the tournament, revealing a declined request to postpone of one of the club’s domestic fixtures.
Ulsan Hyundai from South Korea won the Asian Champions League on Saturday and will now play Mexican side Monterrey in the quarter-finals of the Club World Cup, the match to take place on 9 December in Toyota, Japan. The winner will then face Di Matteo’s side four days later in Yokohama.
With Chelsea scheduled to play Sunderland on Saturday 8 December, the acclimatisation period will be short following the journey to the Far East and although Monterrey have more reason to be concerned about time zone differences than Ulsan Hyundai, either side will be more adjusted than the Blues by the time of the semi-final.
Consequently discussions with the Premier League have been on-going on whether our match at the Stadium of Light can be moved to allow an earlier journey to Japan, but Chelsea learnt of the decision last week.
‘We are very happy to go to Japan and we have tried to postpone the Sunderland game to give us the best chance but the Premier League didn’t agree to it,’ Di Matteo confirms.
‘That certainly could put strain on the players because we are only going to arrive three days before our first game in Japan. We would have liked to go a few days earlier so the players are adjusted to the new time zone. Travelling there with a nine-hour time difference, you want to do everything in your power to be ready for those games. It is a big injury risk as well.
‘You would think the Premier League would have every interest in making sure they give you the best chance of being successful in Japan, which would reflect very well on English football and the Premier League so I am very surprised about it, I can’t get my head round it.
‘The fixture list is obviously very full but where there is a will there is a way. You see all the other confederations trying to help their teams to do well in Europe. We talked about this last season as well.’
Di Matteo is referring to the request back in April to give the Blues an earlier kick-off time for our FA Cup semi-final against Spurs on the Sunday before we met Barcelona. That was not granted.
Looking ahead to the Club World Cup, our manager makes it clear how seriously he is taking the tournament.
‘Maybe in England it is not regarded as so but you speak to the South Americans, the Asians and everybody that is involved and it is a massive competition. Winning that trophy means the world.
‘It is a trophy we don’t have in our cabinet and we desperately want to bring it to Stamford Bridge.’
Ulsan Hyundai qualified by beating Saudi Arabian club Al-Ahli 3-0 in a final held in their own stadium in Korea. It is their first AFC Champions League title.
The other teams now qualified for next month’s tournament are Auckland City from New Zealand who will play-off against a Japanese side for a place in the quarter-finals, and Brazilian side Corinthians who qualify automatically for the other semi-final.