11.12.2015 15:35 h

River Plate evoke samurai spirit in Japan

Argentina's River Plate will be looking to summon the spirit of the samurai as they bid to capture the Club World Cup for a first time.

With Spanish giants Barcelona heavy favourites to become the first team to win the title three times, River will have to dig deep to win a tournament that holds an almost mystical significance for South Americans.

"I never thought I'd have the chance to play in such an amazing competition," said River midfielder Luis Gonzalez. "For us, playing in the Club World Cup is like touching the heavens."

Such is the obsession for the Club World Cup in South America -- unlike the general apathy that greets the competition in Europe -- that River Plate ran a marketing campaign in which the players dressed up as samurai warriors.

"I started playing for the club when I was eight and it (that obsession) has been there all the time," said striker Javier Saviola, a former Barcelona and Real Madrid player. "The club has always seen it as an opportunity for glory but, if anything, there's more expectation this time."

The Buenos Aires club won the old Intercontinental Cup -- the often volatile forerunner contested by the champions of Europe and South America -- in 1986, edging Steaua Bucharest 1-0 in Tokyo. They lost by the same score to Italian side Juventus 10 years later.

Both European champions Barca and River, the Libertadores Cup holders, have to negotiate semi-finals next week but they will be expected to meet in the final in Yokohama on December 20.

River, who have won a record 36 Primera league titles, suffered a slump in their fortunes following those heady years, relegation in 2011 triggering riots. But "los millonarios" hit back with a vengeance to claim their third Libertadores title in August.

"The support we're going to have will be amazing," defender Leonel Vangioni told fifa.com, looking ahead to Wednesday's semi-final against either Congolese side Mazembe or Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Osaka.

"It's going to give us a lot of strength, which is what happened in the Libertadores in Brazil and Paraguay. The passion and sheer madness of the River fans has really helped us in achieving what we've achieved in these last few years."

Argentine rivals Boca Juniors, Estudiantes and San Lorenzo have all been beaten finalists since the revamped FIFA Club World Cup was launched in 2000, European clubs winning seven of the 11 tournaments played.

Barcelona boast arguably the most formidable attacking line-up the game has ever seen in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez -- any one of which would cost more than River's entire squad.

But River, who will be roared on in Japan by an estimated 15,000 fans who have made the trip to the Far East, believe they can produce a shock.

"River were used to winning titles but then came a spell of several years when the club started to fall away," said Saviola. "The supporters stuck with us and became even more fanatical. Now we're enjoying the good times again."