Chelsea will play CF Monterrey from Mexico in the FIFA Club World Cup (formerly Club World Championship) semi-finals on Thursday morning in the same country where Rafael Benitez's Liverpool team were 'robbed' of lifting the trophy back in 2005.
The backdrop of Japan is the common denominator between now and then but that is where the similarities end as the Liverpool of 2005 and Chelsea in 2012 cut radically different figures.
Chelsea's fate is in their hands and to help them avoid the mistakes Liverpool made as they sunk to a 1-0 loss to Sao Paulo in the final we at ESPN decided it would be a suitable time to unearth what went wrong in those 90 minutes at the International Stadium in Yokohama on Japan's east coast.
Chelsea's manager Rafael Benitez was at the helm for the Reds in 2005 but he does not count as a similarity in our books, given the violently different circumstances seven years ago. Back then Benitez was regarded as the best in the business, capable of marrying the right words with cut throat tactics and inspiring his team to famous wins (please see May 25, 2005 for further details on this).
Now he is seen as a brain for hire, willing to go back on his word if the money is right, and as an inept and damaging influence on Chelsea by the club's fans.
Personally, life is very different for the Spaniard also. On the day of Liverpool's 3-0 semi-final win over Deportivo Saprissa seven years ago, Benitez was told his father Francisco had died. He chose not to fly home for the funeral and did not burden his players with thoughts of their manager by telling them of his loss until after the match. Keeping the news to himself, he got on with his job.
The semi-final win, set up by two well-taken goals from Peter Crouch and a Steven Gerrard volley, ensured a place in Sunday's final and all the talk in the papers in the build-up was of world domination by the Reds.
The match was meant to be a regulation payday for captain courageous Gerrard and his troops after their heroics in coming back from the dead to beat AC Milan at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul seven months before. There were also entertaining side stories in Harry Kewell's redemption after limping out of the Champions League final and Dietmar Hamann's potential return to the scene of Germany's loss to Brazilian opposition, namely Brazil, in the World Cup final three years previously.
None of that materialised. At all. The final was an archetypal how-on-earth-did-they-not-win-that match for Liverpool? Sao Paulo scored with their only meaningful attack of the game while the Reds had three goals disallowed, hit the woodwork on numerous occasions and made a man-of-the-tournament out of Rogerio Ceni between the sticks.
Benitez had got his tactics spot on, identifying Sao Paulo's aerial vulnerability and exploiting it so ruthlessly that the Daily Express described his team as 'unashamedly direct' in their match report. Not many strikers in the Premier League at that time were better at benefiting from such a system than Fernando Morientes and his first chance came after just two minutes but the Spaniard's misplaced header set the tone for the day.
Luis Garcia, the conjurer of a goal whenever his team needed one in the charge to the Champions League final, achieved the imperfect hat-trick of finding different ways not to score. He flicked an early header onto the bar, had another header saved by Rogerio before his second-half effort, which did find the net but was ruled out for offside. No doubt wondering if it was personal he resorted to being the provider for substitute Florent Sinama-Pongolle with a cut back in the last minute. It was personal, he was flagged again for offside in the build-up.
Sad loss for Rafa
- Francisco Benitez, a hotelier by trade, died on the Wednesday of the week of the 2005 Club Word Championship from heart trouble after a long illness. Rafael knew he would be unable to return to Madrid in time for the funeral but kept track of his father's final moments over the phone. Before the final a minute's silence was held and both sides wore black armbands on the field.
Benitez said: "I was in Madrid a couple of times because my father was ill for the last few months. I was talking to my mother, sister and brother when my father died. I tried to go there for the funeral but, in Spain, you don't have the time. They couldn't delay the funeral.
"You can be very upset but if you are working sometimes you are able to think about your work more."
Sami Hyypia's tap-in was the third goal disallowed after he met a Xabi Alonso corner because it was adjudged to have drifted out of play. Such poor form/bad luck/ineptitude of officials would only have meant extra-time if it had not been for a midfielder called Mineiro who outpaced the Liverpool defence to hammer home after 27 minutes. The goal was the first time the Reds had conceded in 1,041 minutes and ended Pepe Reina's run of 11 clean sheets in goal.
After the game Liverpool were understandably aggrieved, Benitez had words with FIFA president Sepp Blatter about the quality of the refereeing and Garcia summed up the mood. He said: "We feel cheated. We scored three times and one of them was definitely a goal. The referee was clearly wrong with some of his decisions and we are unhappy about it.
"We have lost out on the trophy but know we have played well. They had one chance and nothing after that."
From the other dugout Sao Paulo manager Paulo Autuori was elated at the efforts of his 11 Brazilians and one Uruguayan. "Football is about having a winner and a loser," he opined. "Liverpool are a great team but the only thing that matters is the score. Sao Paulo deserve to be world champions."
The match also served as an important sports science lesson which should be referenced in all debates about player burnout in England. Autuori again: "We knew in the first half we had to put a lot of pressure on the other team. But we also knew that our team had played more than 80 games in the season and we had to manage our strength."
What happened next?
After Liverpool flew home from the land of the rising sun, Benitez picked up the Premier League manager of the month award for December, to go with his one from November, and Liverpool ended the season in third - setting the wheels in motion for another superb run to the Champions League final in the 2006/07 season.
But in the 2005/06 season's European adventure, they were knocked out 3-0 on aggregate by Benfica in the last 16. Consolation came in the form of the FA Cup which they secured with another 3-3 thriller going to penalties against West Ham at the Millennium Stadium.