YOKOHAMA — European giant Barcelona produced a stunning performance to crush Club America 4-0 in the Club World Cup on Thursday and set up a mouthwatering final against Brazil’s Internacional.
A delightful four-man move enabled Icelandic international Eidur Gudjohnsen to open the scoring on 11 minutes in the rain-lashed semifinal at International Stadium Yokohama, and Rafael Marquez doubled the lead with a header on the half-hour mark.
Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho rounded off an irresistible display with a curling finish on 65 minutes before Deco crashed in an unstoppable shot with five minutes to go to complete the demolition of the Mexican side.
“I’m glad we were able to play at such a high level,” Ronaldinho said. “Now we have to enjoy ourselves. It only seemed easy, but it wasn’t. We had a lot of problems playing against a good team.”
The Barca players’ concerns about jet lag proved to be unfounded, and with more time to acclimatize they should hope to be in even better shape for Sunday’s final in Yokohama, where it will be hoping to go one better than Liverpool, which lost 1-0 last year to Sao Paulo.
The Catalans also are aiming to trump Johan Cruyff’s star-studded outfit that lost 2-1 to Sao Paulo in the 1992 final, when the competition was the Toyota Cup.
With coach Frank Rijkaard in charge, the omens are good. The Dutchman has the Midas touch when it comes to this tournament, being a two-time winner of the Toyota Cup in 1989 and 1990 when in his pomp as a defensive midfielder for the mighty AC Milan.
For Ronaldinho, it will be another chance to shine at the scene of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph. It was too much to expect a raw 22-year-old to dominate the game against Germany four years ago, but the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year is now expected to dictate major games, and he didn’t disappoint against America.
But if the Mexicans had had the nerve to stand up to their opponents early on, things could have been different, as the Barca backline creaked on more than one occasion.
It’s not as if America didn’t know how to score against its more illustrious opponent — the two sides played out a 4-4 draw in a preseason friendly earlier this year.
“I think we had a mental effect on America in the first half,” was Rijkaard’s explanation for America’s apparent nervousness.
But Gudjohnsen opened the floodgates when he put the finishing touches to a delightful four-man move, Ronaldinho nonchalantly flicking Deco’s layoff into the path of Ludovic Giuly, who freed the lurking forward for a classy finish from the edge of the area.
The second came when Portuguese international Deco whipped in a corner from the left and the ball was met by, of all people, Marquez — one of the few Mexicans who plays in Europe. The libero’s firm header fairly flew into the net.
Ronaldinho obliged the predominately Japanese crowd of 62,316 by giving them the goal they craved when he curled the ball into the top corner from 10 meters out after ‘keeper Guillermo Ochoa had parried a shot into his path.
The bandy-legged genius’ samba-style jig to celebrate the goal — and some delicious flourishes throughout the game — suggested that the cobwebs enveloping the tired Brazilian’s legs were slowly falling away. It left the fans with the tantalizing prospect of more to come against Internacional.
“When Ronaldinho made it 3-0, I was at peace,” said Rijkaard.
Deco rounded off the scoring on 85 minutes. Again, Ronaldinho was involved, and again Barcelona’s approach play had the crowd cooing. The Brazilian raced forward, checked his run and laid the ball off into the path of Deco, who crashed in an unstoppable shot from 25 meters across Ochoa.
America was now utterly shell-shocked. All that was left was for Ronaldinho to produce an outrageous chip in injury time that bounced off the bar and brought another enormous roar from the appreciative crowd.
The fans had come to see their heroes at their brilliant best, and they had done them proud. On the evidence presented, Sunday’s final promises to be very special.