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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Sports

No refuge for Rafa

Chelsea's Rafael Benitez goes into the Club World Cup desperate for results and silverware but he will be acutely aware of the 2010 edition, when he was sacked just days after leading Inter Milan to glory.

After two draws and a loss critics are circling Benitez, who replaced the popular Roberto di Matteo last month and whose team also face the prospect of becoming the first Champions League holders to exit at the group stage.

Benitez will take a full-strength squad to Japan, where the intercontinental contest kicks off on Thursday with a preliminary match between Oceania title-holders Auckland City and Japan's J-League winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Chelsea, who won Europe's Champions League for the first time under di Matteo, and Copa Libertadores winners Corinthians of Brazil enter at the semifinal stage starting on December 12.

The London side will play either Mexican club Monterrey or Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai, while Corinthians will face the winners of Egyptian outfit Al Ahly's game against Auckland or Hiroshima.

But the bitter experience of 2010 puts Benitez in an unenviable position in Japan, knowing that even victory is unlikely to turn around his fortunes at Stamford Bridge, while defeat will inevitably crank up the pressure.

Comparisons are striking with two years ago, when Benitez joined European champions Inter after the departure of Jose Mourinho but struggled to convince their fans and went into the Club World Cup under pressure.

A 3-0 victory over Tout Puissant Mazembe in the Abu Dhabi final should have earned him credit, but Benitez used the post-match press conference to call for "respect and assistance" from the club -- and was sacked five days later.

Now Benitez, hired on an interim basis by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, finds himself targeted by boos and speculation about the sack.

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