FC Barcelona are through to the Club World Cup final after downing Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 on Thursday night at the International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.
Luis Suárez scored a hat trick, while Andres Iniesta pulled the strings in what was a comprehensive performance from the Catalonians against the Asian champions.
The big news prior to the match was the absence of Lionel Messi, who missed out due to an abdominal issue, so manager Luis Enrique slotted Suárez in as a lone striker with an attacking midfield of Iniesta, Munir and Sergi Roberto. Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets anchored the holding midfield, while in defense it was the preferred back four of Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba in front of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
There was plenty of energy between the two sides in the first 20 minutes, however that did not translate into any scoring chances of substance.
However, once settled, Barcelona were able to start carving out opportunities, the first in the 23rd minute when Munir nearly connected off a surgically-placed pass from Iniesta, but Guangzhou goalkeeper Li Shuai was alert and snuffed out the chance. Iniesta again proved a handful in the 32nd minute as his nifty footwork allowed him to cross for Munir but the header of the young striker was saved by Shuai.
After failing to make a dent in a Guangzhou side resolute and compact in defense, Barcelona opted to try things from outside, and it yielded their first goal of the game in the 39th minute. Rakitic hit a swerving shot from distance that Shuai was only able to deflect, and an onside Suárez was there to pounce on the rebound and slam it in to hand Barcelona a 1-0 lead.
However, just a minute later Guangzhou had their best chance of the match, coming via a set piece, as Bravo was forced to make a diving save on Elkeson’s header.
Barcelona essentially put the game on ice in the 50th minute with an absolutely spectacular goal scored by Suárez off a brilliant pass from Iniesta. The duo played a one-two combination that saw Iniesta exquisitely loft a ball into the Uruguayan, who skillfully trapped the ball off his chest before volleying home past Shuai, sending up a roar in the same stadium that hosted the 2002 World Cup final.
Suárez earned his hat trick in the 66th minute by easily converting a penalty kick after the referee had blown the whistle for a foul on Munir in the Guangzhou area. Replays showed that Munir exaggerated his fall, but the spot kick was given nonetheless and the chance was converted with aplomb by Suárez.
Guangzhou pushed for a consolation goal in the final 20 minutes but it was Barcelona who was closer to finding the back of the net, only to see Suárez and Sandro miss the mark.
Barcelona will now turn their attention to Sunday’s final against Argentine giants River Plate.