Friday 11 February 2022, 18:00

Gomez: Palmeiras are ready for the game of our lives

  • Gustavo Gomez hails the “unbelievable” Palmeiras fans

  • He responds to whether he’d prefer Edouard Mendy Weverton in goal

  • The Palmeiras captain discusses the UAE 2021 final against Chelsea

One of the greatest fairy tales in cinematic history almost didn’t happen. Walt Disney gave the thumbs-down to its lyricists in 1988 and 1990. Then, when a production suddenly fell through the following year, they hurriedly revisited the script and approved Aladdin. The Arabian street urchin and Princess Jasmine went on to inspire the 'Disney Renaissance'. Someone across the Arabian Peninsula almost didn’t sign the deal for his own fairy tale. Gustavo Gomez still doesn’t know how he didn’t end up a Boca Juniors player. He’d posed for official photos in the esteemed blue and yellow hoops, done an interview with the club’s TV channel, and been consulted by its nutritionists and psychologists, only for Boca to abruptly slam shut the book on his proposed transfer from AC Milan. Gomez already had his Princess Jasmine – his wife is called Betiana Jazmin – but Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras would become his second. The Paraguayan, as stylish as he is solid, has indeed propelled the Palmeiras Renaissance. The centre-back was infallible as ‘The Big Green’ won back-to-back Copa Libertadores crowns, and he has also helped them to Copa do Brasil and Campeonato Paulista conquests. Astonishingly in uber-patriotic Brazil, he captains Abel Ferreira’s side despite being a foreigner.

The 28-year-old chatted to FIFA on the eve of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021™ final against Abu Dhabi.

FIFA: You came here on a one-year loan in 2018. Could you have possibly imagined that you’d still be at the club now, as its captain, an idol, with two Libertadores titles and preparing for a FIFA Club World Cup final? Gustavo Gomez: I don’t it has all sunk in. It really does feel like a dream. To be captain of a club like this, with fans like these, is everything. When you come to a club as big as Palmeiras, you know you’re going to fight for titles. But to win two Libertadores titles and be in the Club World Cup final, it’s something else. I honestly can’t believe all this has happened to me. I didn’t expect all of this. I love Palmeiras. I love the supporters. We’re living through a great moment in this club’s history, and we desperately want to achieve our dream, which is the world title. What was your first impression of those fans? Unbelievable! It’s hard to put into words. You have to feel the adrenaline at Allianz Parque to know what it’s like. When we play big games, the support is inexplicable. The affection, the support is amazing. They live football totally differently, with more passion than the rest.

What did you think of the support on Tuesday? To be honest, we were shocked to see the number of supporters. I think it was really cool. I think our rivals felt this too. It was fundamental to us too, to motivate the players. And the party was sealed by the victory. The victory was indebted to Dudu and Raphael Veiga… Dudu and Raphael are so important for us. They make such a difference on the pitch and off it too. They both work really hard. They’re match-winners. Any team would be lucky to have them, and we’re very pleased it’s Palmeiras.

As a centre-back who have been the best defenders you’ve ever seen? There have been so many great defenders. On Saturday I will be up against Thiago Silva, who is one of the best in the world. Paraguay has had players who went down in history like Gamarra, Paulo da Silva; players who were outstanding. Speaking of Thiago Silva, what do you think of him? He’s a great player. I already had the opportunity to play against him, back in the Copa America I think. For me, he’s someone I always watched and admired, tried to learn from. He’s very complete. He’s one of the most important players for Brazil, which tells you something. He’s also a great leader. For sure Chelsea are very lucky to have him. Not just because of what he does as a player, but for the influence he has on other players.

Romelu Lukaku looked sharp in the semi-final. How are you feeling about possibly coming up against him? Lukaku is a great player, one of the best strikers in the world. But we’re working hard every day to cope with him and Chelsea’s other great players. We’ll do our best. Edouard Mendy has just been named The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper. Being honest, who would you prefer in goal: Mendy or Weverton? Weverton, no doubt. I know how hard he’s worked to get where he is today. He’s won two Libertadores titles, he’s in the Brazilian national team. He’s been so important for Palmeiras. He produces incredible saves at crucial moments. He’s an exceptional goalkeeper. It wouldn’t matter who you just asked me about, I wouldn’t swap Weverton for any goalkeeper. He is Palmeiras.

How important is the FIFA Club World Cup title for Palmeiras? The importance is huge for our history, for each player, for the club, for the fans, for everybody. We players are ready to play the game of our lives, and we will give everything to achieve this dream. Will Palmeiras win the final? Only God knows. But we’re working hard and we’ll do everything to achieve this dream. We’re very confident, we have a great coach, we have a great side. We’re up against another great side. We know that the European team will always be the favourite, we know they haven’t lost this title for a long time. But I can promise you that every Palmeiras player will give it everything. And I know that our supporters make an incredible difference. We would love to win it for them so, so much.