The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Ronaldinho, Atletico Mineiro look to thwart Bayern Munich and Guardiola's winning ways
MADRID - Led by its decorated coach Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich heads to Morocco looking to cap a historic season with one last trophy at the Club World Cup.
Ronaldinho, the player Guardiola cast out while in charge at Barcelona, and his Atletico Mineiro team could yet play the spoiler, however.
Champions League winner Bayern must first get past Asian champion Guangzhou Evergrande in Tuesday's semifinal to set up a final with Copa Libertadores winner Atletico Mineiro, which faces local favourite Raja Casablanca a day later.
One of Guardiola's first decisions after taking over Barcelona in 2008-'09 was to sell Ronaldinho. The Catalan coach's decision proved wise with a record-setting six major trophies won over his first season in charge.
That sixth triumph was the Club World Cup, and now Guardiola has a chance to close Bayern's own record-breaking campaign with its fifth trophy to add to the Champions League, Bundesliga, German Cup, and UEFA Super Cup titles.
"We were rewarded in 2013. But we're not yet at the end," Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said. "We'll give our best at the Club World Cup."
Since 2000, only European and South American teams have reached the final with the Europeans holding a 5-4 edge at an event that was not played between 2001 to '04. Barcelona also won the title under Guardiola in 2011.
Bayern's first test at the Agadir Stadium is against the Chinese champions, Guangzhou Evergrande, led by former Italy coach Marcelo Lippi, after they beat African champion Al Ahly 2-0 on Saturday.
Lippi, who led Italy to its World Cup victory in 2006, said the club competition poses a different set of challenges.
"The World Cup is a competition that is another level, so I cannot compare these two events," Lippi said through a translator.
"We all know that Bayern Munich is probably the best team in the world. You can play them 100 times and lose 99 times, but there is that one match you can win so you never know."
Bundesliga leader Bayern has won 14 of 16 league games this season and is on a record 41-game unbeaten streak in the league. Franck Ribery will lead the attack with fellow forward Arjen Robben out of the tournament because of a right-knee injury.
Ronaldinho returns to the competition for the first time since 2006 when the Barcelona side he led to a Champions League title was upset by Internacional in the final. It marked the start of the Brazilian player's slide with Barcelona.
Ronaldinho's form has flourished since he joined Atletico Mineiro, leading the club to its first South American championship.
With striker Diego Tardelli available, coach Cuca has to prepare for an unexpected semifinal against Raja after it eliminated Mexico's Monterrey 2-0 on Saturday.
"It was a surprise to everybody, we expected Monterrey to advance, because of its tradition," Cuca said. "We didn't stop observing Raja, but it's a team with a different style compared to the Mexicans.
"Now we will have to play against the home team, but in the Copa Libertadores we also played under pressure against opposing fans. Our players are used to that."
The semifinal winners play Saturday in Marrakech. The tournament, which features all six continental champions plus one local host team, will also be played in Morocco in 2014.
AP Sports Writers Ciaran Fahey and Tales Azzoni contributed to this report.
Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP
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