FC Barcelona are 2011 Champions of the World after demolishing Santos 4-0 with a stunning display of football at the Yokohama stadium. Leo Messi again rose to the big occasion to score two goals which earned him the FIFA Man of the Match, though Xavi gave another midfield master class and probably deserved the award. Santos had very few chances and found themselves 2-0 down after just 25 minutes through Messi and Xavi before Cesc Fabregas added a third just before half time. There could have been more but we had to settle for just one second half goal scored by Messi ten minutes before the end.
Alexis Sanchez was not considered fit enough to start so with Villa injured Guardiola added Thiago to play wide on the left in a starting XI that contained nine homegrown players. Right from the start it was clear that Alves was playing as the other wide forward in a 3-4-3 formation and today this would prove to be highly effective as Alves was involved in all four goals though he somehow failed to find the net himself. Santos sat back with a 4-3-1-2 and for the first few minutes they managed to prevent Barça’s one-twos from getting into the area. Neymar got his first run in the 8th minute after Alves’s poor pass but Puyol who was excellent throughout at the back, was on top of the youngster to clear up. Then in the 13th minute Piqué gave a risky ball out of defence but the ball came through to Messi who got his first chance to run at the defence, Messi’s shot was parried by Cabral and Thiago should have found a bit more power with his rebound which allowed Cabral time to recover.
We had been warned of the danger of Santos’s free kicks and Borges won a free kick off Piqué on the edge of the area in the 14th minute but when Neymar touched the free kick to Ganso, the midfielder fired wide. There may have been an early illusion of equality but it wasn’t to last long. Alves showed one of the reasons for this team’s success by chasing back 50 yards to rob Neymar in full flight, within a minute we were in front. Cesc combined with Messi on the right and Xavi showed his immense class to control Cesc’s pass that was flying past his right side a metre off the ground by lifting his leg backwards and to the side, the control was sublime and then we had the speed of vision as Xavi found Messi in the area, Messi finished with the Messi Dink, the little flick over the advancing goalkeeper that also eluded the spectacular effort from Dracena to clear off the line. It was a stylish goal that demonstrated the class of these two great players.
The goal gave us confidence and we began to take total control of the game as Santos struggled to follow our movement as our 3-4-3 could easily have been described as a 3-7-0. As we moved the ball comfortably from one side to the other gaps began to appear in the Brazilian defence, in the 24th minute Alves found Xavi on the edge of the area and after another excellent control he fired low under Cabral from 14 yards for our second. Messi nearly made it three soon after but Dracena got in a last minute tackle after Messi’s one-two with Cesc. Santos had a brief reaction when Ganso found Borges who got a yard away from Iniesta to shoot but Valdés got down low to his right to save.
There wasn’t much more from Santos in the first half although Piqué got a yellow for a foul on Neymar. Fabregas might have added the third after ghosting in to beat the offside trap but his shot came out off the post. But Cesc would get his goal just before the break after Alves and Messi had caused havoc in the Santos defence, Messi’s backheel found Alves running to the byline, Alves’s cross was pushed out by the diving Cabral who also managed to get in the way of Thiago’s header but he could do nothing as Fabregas coolly picked his spot inside the post.
We came out for the second half showing ambition for more goals. Straight after the kick off Fabregas won the ball back but when Messi returned the ball Cesc’s shot was well saved low by the post by Cabral. There were more chances as Alves inexplicably headed Thiago’s cross back to Thiago instead of into the gaping net, and then Messi had a chance from Fabregas’s cross but Cabral closed his legs in time to save. Santos showed their class with a good counter attack with Neymar and Ganso combining to set up Borges but Valdés was out quickly to close the angle and save. Then perhaps we got too over-confident as Xavi got caught out for once allowing Ganso to send a good ball for Neymar to chase but Valdés did well again to save as Neymar shot under pressure from Abidal.
It seems this chance awoke us to the danger of the Santos counter and we settled with restoring order to the game. Puyol was magnificent in denying Ganso but the Santos threat was fading. As the game neared the end we looked for a fourth, Cesc was denied by the keeper’s feet and then Alves was denied by the post after substitute Pedro had taken advantage of a moment of hesitation in the Santos defence. Then in the 82nd minute Alves played in Messi who skipped round Cabral to score into the empty net. Another classy finish but all in a day’s work for Messi. Alves was destined not to score himself and right near the end he fired over from a good position after Pedro’s chest down. Perhaps a manita would have been too much to ask for.
We have now won an incredible 13 trophies out of 16 under Pep Guardiola and the team shows few signs of dropping its level. there is now no doubt for anybody which team is the best in the world. We have given exhibitions over Manchester United at Wembley and over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Some will say the South American champions Santos were disappointing, but it is the same old story played out with different opponents, if you don’t have the ball there is little you can do no matter how good you may be when you do have it.
Some commentators claimed before the match that this final was all about Neymar. It wasn’t. The youngster showed signs of his undoubted class but the game wasn’t about him. It was about Barça and a philosophy of how to play football. For years now our training methods have been based on rondos, a training method based on keeping possession in tight situations. It is also about creating home grown talent; with Pedro and Fontás coming on as subs today we had 11 out of 14 players who came though our youth academy. Cesc and Piqué also learnt from their time in England but it should be noted that Cesc has now won more in four months at Barça than he won in eight years at Arsenal. The Masia was best represented today by Xavi, Messi and Puyol who were all magnificent and it was fitting to see the three of them in the centre of the team photo at the end. There are so many reasons to be proud of this team and today should be about celebrating. However, the season continues and after flying back from Japan we have a Copa del Rey match with L’Hospitalet to worry about. That game may seem totally unimportant right now but another part of our success is that when the team get back to Barcelona Pep Guardiola will be doing everything to get the team 100% focused on the task in hand which should always be the same thing: to win the next game. Barça keep winning games and winning trophies at an incredible rate. Hold your head up high, Cule! We are World Champions!
Santos: Cabral; Danilo (Elano m31), Dracena, Bruno Rodrigo, Leo, Durval; Henrique, Arouca, Ganso (Ibsen m83); Neymar, Borges (Kardec m78).
Barça: Valdés 7; Puyol 8.5 (Fontás m85, –), Piqué 7 (Mascherano m56, 7), Abidal 7.5; Busquets 7.5, Xavi 9, Iniesta 7.5, Fabregas 7.5; Alves 8, Messi 8.5, Thiago 7 (Pedro m79, 7).
Goals: m17 Messi 0-1, m24 Xavi 0-2, m45 Fabregas 0-3, m82 Messi 0-4
Yellow cards: m39 Piqué, m71 Mascherano, m73 Ganso, m74 Dracena.
Yokohama stadium 68,166