YOKOHAMA – Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola has urged his players to fight through jet lag and become world champions for a second time at the Club World Cup in Japan this week.
The Spanish glamour side arrived in Yokohama late Sunday night having boarded a flight immediately after beating archrival Real Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish League on Saturday, with little time to acclimatize before Thursday’s semifinal against Al Sadd of Qatar at Nissan Stadium.
Guardiola is confident his squad of world-famous players has the experience to cope with whatever the schedule throws at them, but the 40-year-old is making sure no one takes the competition lightly with the chance to regain the title the club won in 2009 within reach.
“This time we have to be very careful about how we deal with jet lag,” Guardiola said at Barcelona’s first media appearance in Yokohama on Monday. “For the players, this type of opportunity doesn’t come along very often. If they want to have a siesta, it has to be short.
“For us this is a very important game. Al Sadd are a good team and they are playing well. Two years ago we had a very difficult game in the final, and we want to be champions again.”
Right back Dani Alves believes he and his teammates will be ready for Thursday’s game, and says that long-haul flights are simply part and parcel of the life of a modern elite player.
“I’m in good shape,” the Brazilian said. “We’re getting used to the jet lag and I slept well. I don’t know how my teammates slept, but when I play for the national team I get jet lag so it’s not something that I’m suffering from.”
Barcelona beat Argentina’s Estudiantes to win the tournament in Abu Dhabi in 2009, but Japan has proved less fertile hunting ground over the years. Defeat to Sao Paulo at National Stadium in 1992 denied the Catalan club — featuring Guardiola in midfield — the Toyota Cup forerunner to the current competition, and Brazil’s Internacional made sure there would be no happy introduction to the revamped format with a 1-0 win in the 2006 final in Yokohama.
“I’m trying to give the players the most free time that I can, so that they can relax,” said Guardiola. “I would like them to go sightseeing in Tokyo. I want them to be as confident as possible going into this match. In order to win the Club World Cup I have to motivate the players as much as possible.”
Barcelona could hardly head into the tournament in better spirits, with Saturday’s win over Real sending Guardiola’s team to the top of the Spanish League on goal difference.
“Of course different players have different impressions, but the win was a very good one,” said captain Carles Puyol. “We didn’t have a good start, but we were very motivated to play our football. (Goalkeeper) Victor Valdes had a great game. We made some mistakes, but we were able to pick it up and have a perfect game.”
Puyol and Alves admit they know little about Al Sadd, which qualified for the semifinal by beating Tunisia’s Esperance 2-1 on Sunday, but the players insist they will take nothing for granted when the Qataris line up against them on Thursday.
“They got to this competition, so I have respect for them,” Alves said of the Asian champions. “Both teams respect each other. For us it is necessary to be well prepared. Two years ago we weren’t in very good condition, so this time we want to be in better shape.”
Victory on Thursday would bring Barcelona a place in Sunday’s final against Brazil’s Santos or J. League champions Kashiwa Reysol, and Puyol knows his side will have to keep an eye on 19-year-old sensation Neymar should the South Americans prevail.
“Of course he is different from any other player, because he is always trying to score one-on-one,” Puyol said. “He is young but he has a lot of experience, and he stands out.”
Japan is hosting the Club World Cup for the first time since it moved to the United Arab Emirates for two editions in 2009, and Guardiola is hoping to bring some cheer to the nation after a difficult 2011.
“For us Japan is a country that is of course very far away, but every time we come here we receive a very warm welcome,” he said. “We want to show what we can do on the pitch, and there will be opportunities for us to meet the Japanese people. We want to show that we are with Japan.”