Fluminense coach Fernando Diniz credited his side’s experience for riding out an Al Ahly storm to reach the final of the Club World Cup with a 2-0 win on Monday.
Two goals in the final 20 minutes in Jeddah by Jhon Arias, from the penalty spot, and then John Kennedy carried the Brazilians into Friday’s final against European Champions League winners Manchester City or Japanese side Urawa Reds.
Al Ahly were left to rue a number of missed chances as the African champions failed to find a way past 43-year-old Fluminense goalkeeper Fabio.
But he was not the only veteran to shine for the Copa Libertadores champions.
At the age of 40, Felipe Melo became the oldest outfield player in Club World Cup history, while ex-Real Madrid captain Marcelo, 35, won the decisive penalty.
Former Brazil international Ganso, 34, and striker German Cano, 35, also played their part.
Did the age of our players help? I think it absolutely did,” said Diniz, who has combined his roles as Fluminense boss with a spell as interim Brazil manager.
“Marcelo was decisive, especially for the penalty.”
Marcelo also believes it is a mix of youth and experience that has led Fluminense to an all-time high this year as they won the Copa Libertadores for the first time.
“They call us the 40-somethings, but we aim to help the younger players with this experience,” said the left-back.
“I think it is this mix of young players and experience that has helped Fluminense a lot.”
The last 10 Club World Cups have been won by European sides.
But if the gulf is growing between Europe’s elite and the rest of the world at club level, the gap between South America’s best and the rest of the world has narrowed significantly.
Twice in the past three years, the Copa Libertadores winners have failed to qualify for the final and Fluminense could easily have followed suit.
Al Ahly had dumped out a star-studded Al-Ittihad featuring Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho on their home patch in the previous round.
And roared on by thousands of travelling fans from just across the Red Sea, they were the more energetic and enterprising side throughout.
“We should have conceded goals, they played really well and our goalkeeper saved us several times,” added Diniz. “But we have a very strong characteristic: we never give up.”
– Nothing to fear –
Fluminense still came closest to scoring before half-time as Arias twice hit the post.
But Al Ahly should have made their first-half ascendency count when Kahraba headed a glorious chance straight at Fabio.
The chances continued to come and go for the Egyptians after the break.
Kahraba fired too close to Fabio before the veteran ‘keeper denied Emam Ashour.
Al Ahly were made to pay for that profligacy when a rare moment of quality from Marcelo lured Percy Tau into a mistimed challenge inside the box.
Mohamed Elshenawy had saved a penalty from Benzema in the quarter-finals, but this time was beaten by Arias’ accurate spot-kick into the bottom corner.
Tau had an immediate chance to make amends but headed straight at Fabio.
Substitute Taher Mohamed was next to waste a big opportunity to equalise, but Al Ahly failed to find a way through despite having 18 attempts on goal.
Kennedy, whose goal won the Copa Libertadores final against Boca Juniors last month, then showed the poise Al Ahly had been missing in front of goal by coolly turning inside his marker and slotting into the far corner.
Diniz has previously described his style of football as the opposite of Pep Guardiola’s.
The Manchester City boss begins his quest to win the Club World Cup with a third different club on Tuesday.
But on this evidence there is little for Guardiola’s City to fear in the final should they see off Asian champions Urawa.