Barça continued the 2013/14 preseason with a 1-7 victory over the Thailand national team at the Rajamangala National Stadium today. Despite being diagnosed with anaemia earlier this week Neymar Jr started the game and responded with his first blaugrana goal to put Barça in front. Leo Messi added a brace and Pedro Rodriguez knocked in a hat-trick while Thailand pulled one back through a Teerasil Dangda penalty before Alexis Sanchez completed the scoring early in the second half.
It the first time that Leo Messi and Neymar have begun a match together as Tata Martino put out a strong initial XI. Barça’s new coach also demonstrated his confidence in younger players by continuing with Sergi Roberto in midfield while also giving a surprise start to Frank Bagnack alongside Gerard Piqué in the centre of defence as Barça lined up with Valdes, Alves, Piqué, Bagnack, Adriano, Sergi Roberto, Song, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi and Neymar.
There was not that much between the teams in the opening ten minutes. The Thai team, nicknamed ‘The War Elephants’, recently lost 0-3 to Liverpool which offers a fair indication of their level, though once Barça got started there was little the Thais could do to contain the flow. In the 12th minute Alves, Messi and Pedro combined neatly on the right before the ball came again to Messi who switched the play to Fabregas who played a low cross in from the left and Neymar reacted quickly to stab the ball past the impressively named Thailand goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool.
A minute later Piqué sent a long ball down the middle, Messi was quicker than Artit Daosawang and the Thai defender was panicked into giving Messi a push in the back and the referee pointed to the spot. Messi confidently stroked the penalty past Hathairattanakool’s dive to make it 0-2.
The third goal, like the first, came from a swiftly moving build-up that switched from one side to the other. This time it was Adriano, Fabregas and Neymar starting the move on the left, Messi received Neymar’s pass inside before finding support from Alves on the right, and when Alves crossed low to the edge of the area Messi controlled before slipping the ball to his right for Pedro to crash a shot high past the keeper at his near post.
There was no stopping Barça now. In the 26th minute a quick free-kick found Adriano whose shot was blocked but the ball broke to Messi who had an easy side-foot finish to make it 0-4. At this point practically every blaugrana attempt on goal had ended in the Thai net but soon after Fabregas volleyed over after Alexis’s excellent chip forward.
Messi continued to be Barça’s most influential player, in the 36th minute he robbed the ball on the left before darting into the area and sending in a low cross that Sergi Roberto jumped over with the ball arriving to Pedro who fired the ball home left footed from ten yards.
Thailand had shown very little going forward but in the 42nd minute a good combination allowed Teerasil Dangda to get away from Piqué and Alves; Bagnack was forced to come across to cover but the young defender’s tackle was late and even though there may have been no contact, Dangda went down and the ref gave the penalty. Dangda sent Valdés the wrong way from the spot and the teams went in 1-5 at half time.
Given the temperature of 32ºC both sides made numerous substitutions during the break with only Valdés, Pedro and Fabregas staying on for Barça. Barça were now with the first choice midfield of Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta while up front we had Alexis on the right, Pedro on the left with Fabregas as false nine.
Barça quickly added two more goals with Fabregas playing a part in both. In the 48th minute he played a long deep cross from the halfway line near the touchline and Pedro ran onto it to score with a stretching left foot volley over Thailand’s substitute keeper. Then a minute later Iniesta received Fabregas’s returned pass before sending in a low cross for Alexis to convert from close in.
Unfortunately the remainder of the game failed to live up to the standard of the first 50 minutes. Iniesta put in a good performance but Barça lacked punch up front as Fabregas and Pedro tired. Jean-Marie Dongou replaced Fabregas after 67 minutes and the young Cameroonian striker came close soon after coming on, firing just over after a good combination with Alexis. Pedro was forced to come off injured with about eight minutes remaining and with no more available substitutes Barça played the final minutes with ten men. There was one final effort from Iniesta but the Thai keeper tipped his left-foot drive over the crossbar.
With so many substitutions in a game against weaker opposition, it is still difficult to make many conclusions. Barça now travel to Malaysia where the next pre-season game takes place on Saturday against a Malaysia XI.
Thailand: Hathairattanakool; Bunmathan, Daosawang, Wannasri, Kraisorn; Dangda, Songkrasin, Thaweekarn, Puangchan; Sokam, Chappuis. Also played: Pimrat, Chaiman, Wongsa, Pumbuppa, Nontadee, Tamaphan, Nanok, Siriwong, Sawangsri.
Barça: Valdes (Pinto m63); Alves (Montoya h/t), Piqué (Bartrá h/t), Bagnack (Mascherano h/t), Adriano (Alba h/t); Sergi Roberto (Xavi h/t), Song (Busquets (h/t), Fabregas (Dongou m67); Pedro, Messi (Alexis h/t), Neymar (Iniesta h/t).
Goals: m12 Neymar 0-1, m14 Messi (pen) 0-2, m18 Pedro 0-3, m26 Messi 0-4, m35 Pedro 0-5, m42 Dangda (pen) 1-5, m48 Pedro 1-6, m49 Alexis 1-7.
Yellow card: m27 Adriano.