After succeeding Real Madrid as champions of Europe, Barcelona can do the same in the Club World Cup, as they take on River Plate ahead of what will be a full Nissan Stadium in Yokohama. Around 20,000 Argentines will be there in support of their team, while most Japanese fans are cheering on Barcelona.
Barcelona have the opportunity to round off a magnificent year in which they have won four of five competitions they have competed in and can now go for their fifth. An impressive achievement given it’s less than a year ago they were in crisis, looking for a replacement for Luis Enrique and sacking Andoni Zubizarreta. Barcelona flipped the tortilla, turning things around and are now one step away from being world champions.
Lucho is following in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola, who managed to achieve the sextuple in his first season as coach. They can’t do that this year, having lost the Spanish Super Cup against Athletic Club, thanks to 45 bad minutes in Bilbao. That is what separates them from Pep’s side. Nothing else.
The Blaugrana, however, have more challenges ahead. If they beat River they will become the team to have won the competition the most times – overtaking Corinthians on two. Although FIFA’s paltry fee for winning – 4.6million euros – is ridiculous, the results of victory will see incalculable benefits for the club coffers.
The squad have individual challenges too, with Messi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets and Dani Alves aiming to become the first players to win it three times, while Messi (with four goals) just needs one to equal Cesar Delgado as the top goalscorer in tournament history.
The team arrives after some mistakes in recent league matches. The injuries to Messi and Neymar have been the only problems here, but the team progessed to the final, thanks to the likes of Suarez, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique and Alves being in a fine moment of form. They have competed 13 finals (one off matches) since 2009, winning 11.
To think the title is won already would be a big mistake, because history shows these type of games are especially complicated, because they mean a lot to South American teams. The first title in Japan they lost, to Internacional 1-0, but then won in extra-time against Estudiantes 2-1 in 2009, then beat Neymar’s Santos 4-0 in 2011.
The Brazilian is especially charged up to win it. “He’s crazy for it,” is the word from the dressing room. He wants to shine in a tournament highly valued in Brazil. And impress just after being shortlisted for the first time as a Ballon d’Or candidate.
The same sources say that Barcelona’s dressing room is also deadly serious about winning it. “When the moment arrives they are serious. No more jokes. They only want the title.” It’s a team that continues wanting to make history and not let these opportunities escape them.
Luis Enrique also takes these finals on with the same ambition. He was a winner as a player and transmits his hunger to the players, lamenting the errors made (including his own) in the Spanish Super Cup.
Nothing will be easy because even though River Plate are low profile, they are fighters. It’s not a great team they can’t count on stars, but they scrap for their lives and will play out of their skins, for the 20,000 fans that traveled and to say they battled with FC Barcelona.
Barcelona have earned footballing respect across the planet, partly thanks to the trident up front. If Messi is injured, Neymar takes the weight of the team on his back. If Neymar is injured, Suarez scores three goals and dedicates them to his team-mates. If Barcelona get a penalty, Messi hands the ball to Neymar. Three friends that are a headache for each and every opponent. Three friends that will reunite on the pitch against River Plate, with Messi and Neymar recovering. They will not be at maximum fitness, but the will to win the trophy will do the rest.