Football Club Barcelona reached the FIFA Club World Cup Final against Santos with a comfortable 0-4 win over Qatari side Al Sadd Sports Club in Yokohama. However, we pay a high price for the victory as David Villa looks likely to lose the rest of the season after fracturing the tibia in his left leg in the first half, while his substitute today Alexis Sanchez also had to go off with a thigh strain and is doubtful for Sunday’s game, and we finished the game with ten men after Javier Mascherano was stretchered off having received some studs in his ankle. Two first half goals from Adriano Correia put Barça on the road to victory. Victor Valdés’s goal was never under threat and Keita and Maxwell added second half goals as we went through the motions.
Pep Guardiola made six changes to the team that won at the Bernabeu, Valdés, Puyol, Abidal, Iniesta and Messi retained their places while Adriano, Mascherano, Keita, Thiago, Pedro and Villa came in for Alves, Piqué, Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas and Alexis. The pattern for the game was set right from the start with Al Sadd retreating into the last third of the field in a 5-4-1 shape with only Niang left up front. Iniesta was our most active player early on in trying to find a way through the packed defence but first Pedro failed to control his clever flick and then our first attempts at shots from Pedro and Messi were both blocked.
Al Sadd did not try to press too much so we could play the ball around comfortably. The problem was the lack of space around the area but Al Sadd didn’t look good enough to keep us out for long. We almost got a first after Keita bravely got in the way of a clearance and the ball flew nicely for Villa who after a touch to control with his head fired low but the goalkeeper Saqr got down well to save. But the goal came in the 25th minute after the Al Sadd defender Nadir Belhadj failed to clear Pedro’s cross from the left, instead knocking the ball back awkwardly for Saqr who hesitated for a split second as he realised he couldn’t pick the ball up allowing Adriano, who by this time had already advanced his position to the right wing, the chance to rush him, the goalkeeper reaction was to try and clear but the ball hit Adriano’s knee and flew past Saqr into the net. Some will again say this goal was down to luck but it was down to Adriano continuing the chase. In short he deserved his reward for his persistance.
David Villa was working hard in the centre forward position but often found himself surrounded by a pack of defenders, in the 34th minute he did well to create a shooting opportunity for Iniesta and when Iniesta’s shot was parried by the keeper Villa was there to stick home the rebound only to be denied by the linesman who had correctly seen that he had drifted just offside. Villa’s luck got much worse a minute later. Chasing a long pass from Iniesta, Villa battled into the area with two defenders but he landed awkwardly and immediately signalled to the bench. At first I didn’t think it was that serious and the first time I watched the replay I only saw how Villa landed badly on his right ankle as he came down but the second time I saw the horror of the break as his left leg comes down afterwards.
Alexis came on and went straight to centre forward and Barça continued to dominate totally. There was one fantastic move where Abidal interchanged passes as he moved across the pitch from left back to right wing. Then just before half time Thiago stabbed a quick vertical pass for Adriano’s diagonal run from the right and Adriano grabbed hois second with a low shot that the goalkeeper will feel he should have done more to stop. We did get a brief flurry from Al Sadd just before half time, first with a great gallop from Kader Keita though Abidal and Mascherano did enough to force him into shooting well over, and then Niang got a moment to show his speed against Puyol winning a free kick in a dangerous position but the kick was hit straight at the wall and the ref blew for half time.
There was much less to comment in the second half. Al Sadd switched to 5-3-2 and tried to push up a bit but it didn’t last for long. Messi who played most of the game behind the centre forward was looking for the goal to equal Pedro’s record of a goal in all six competitions in one calendar year but it was impossible to find room to break through, he had one good run and shot blocked and it was a great shame that he couldn’t score the overhead kick chance after he’d caused havoc between defender and keeper. Just before this Messi had turned provider threading a neat pass in for Keita’s run through the inside right position, Keita took one touch to control before side footing into the corner. Thiago completed a fine game with another assist for substitute Maxwell who can also be grateful for Saqr allowing the ball to squirm under him.
This was a good performance from the team and it was logical that our rhythm should drop a bit in the second half when it was clear the victory was not in danger. The injury to Villa is a very costly price for the win. With Afellay out as well we must be grateful for the rise of Isaac Cuenca. However, there will probably now be some serious thinking about whether or not to bring in a substitute in the January transfer window. The team will have to march on without Villa but Sunday’s final with Santos is a massive opportunity for this team to continue making history. This tournament always seems a bit strange coming in the middle of the league season, but this is a really big deal to win. Over 90 minutes anything can happen and Santos, and of course Neymar, are going to cause us a lot more problems than Al Sadd.
Barça: Valdés 6; Adriano 7.5, Mascherano 6.5, Puyol 6, Abidal 6.5; Thiago 8, Keita 7, Iniesta 7; Pedro 6.5, Messi 7, Villa 6.5.
Goals: m25 Adriano 1-0, m43 Adriano 2-0, m64 Keita 3-0, m81 Maxwell 4-0
Barça no yellow cards: