Barça, Santos set for Club World Cup final
Barcelona’s superstar Lionel Messi (L) celebrates with captain Carles Puyol (R). The Catalan powerhouse will have to cope with the up-and-coming Brazilian starlet Neymar (bottom) during the Dec 18 final. AFP PhotoBest of both worlds will collide on Dec. 18 as the European champion Barcelona and South American titleholder Santos lock horns for the Club World Cup final in Japan.
Barcelona will try to continue Europe’s recent domination over South America. Since 2007, Milan, Manchester United, Barcelona and Inter Milan, respectively claimed the intercontinental tournament, and the Catalans will try to win it for the second time.
However, the team, which is dubbed as the top football team in the world suffered a blow earlier in the tournament when they lost David Villa to a broken left leg that will keep him out for at least five months.
Villa’s injury came shortly before half-time in the European champions’ 4-0 semifinal rout of the Qatari outfit Al Sadd, and Barça boss Pep Guardiola now faces the challenge of getting his men to refocus on the football.
Midfielder Javier Mascherano and Chile forward Alexis Sanchez, Villa’s replacement, also picked up knocks.
Guardiola, who in his three-and-a-half years at the helm has won every trophy going, admitted his players were “upset” after Villa’s injury, adding that the team has pledged to capture the title for the Spanish striker.
“The players all felt sick for David after the game,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola told reporters. “They are very down. I told them it can happen to anyone at any time.
“David is going to be out for a long time and now we will have to win the Club World Cup without him. It will take a long time to return from this kind of break.”
The Spanish champions, regarded as one of the best club sides ever, were never in trouble against Al Sadd, Asia’s finest, at the International Stadium in Yokohama.
The Brazilian Adriano netted a brace in the first-half for an under-strength Barca, who left regulars Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Xavi out of the starting XI. Seydou Keita and Maxwell scored a goal apiece in the second period to wrap up a victory which was never in doubt.
But Barcelona knows it will be an altogether different challenge when the team goes up against Santos, who in teenage forward Neymar has one of the most sought-after players in world football.
The 19-year-old, who has been compared with Barça’s Argentine master Lionel Messi, scored the South American champions’ sensational first goal in their 3-1 semifinal defeat of Kashiwa Reysol.
“I’m really looking forward to the final with two great teams playing,” said the Barcelona captain Carles Puyol. “Everybody talks about Neymar but there are many other good players.
“It is difficult to mark Neymar. He has great speed. I’ve seen him play many times and I feel he’s a great player and he has a very promising future ahead of him. He is quite fast and he is unpredictable when he gets the ball.”
Santos, who rode their luck at times against the Japanese champions, boast an array of attacking talent that also includes the prolific Borges, who scored an impressive second on Dec. 14, and cunning number 10 Ganso.
“Santos are very good and I think they have really important players up front like Neymar and Ganso,” said the Argentine Mascherano. “The players are very experienced. I played in Brazil and I know the coach (Muricy Ramalho) is very clever as well. We have respect for them.”
Guardiola, whose star-studded side only arrived in Japan on Sunday night, hours after defeating fierce rivals Real Madrid, was equally wary.
“Santos is a historic team. In their time, Pele and other players made them a big name. We are lucky to be in this final.”
Mascherano promised Barça would not underestimate the South American Libertadores Cup holders.
“Santos are a very good side and they have some quality players in attack, like Neymar and (Paulo Henrique) Ganso,” said the former Liverpool enforcer.
“They have experience and their coach (Muricy Ramalho) is very clever. We have a lot of respect for them. Right now though we all feel terrible for David and need to support him.”
Compiled from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.