YOKOHAMA – Barcelona set up a Club World Cup final showdown with Santos after picking a way through the massed ranks of Al Sadd’s defense to claim a 4-0 win on Thursday night.
An almost full-strength Barcelona lineup at Nissan Stadium left the Asian champions from Qatar in little doubt who began the semifinal as the overwhelming favorite, and two first-half goals from Brazilian defender Adriano put the Catalans firmly on course to reach Sunday’s final.
World player of the year Lionel Messi was unable to add his name to the scoresheet as he saw a free kick saved in the 63rd minute, but Seydou Keita and substitute Maxwell hit two more to give the 66,298 crowd something to cheer despite the defensive Qataris’ best efforts to shut the game down.
“The first 20 to 25 minutes were not easy,” said Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano. “We couldn’t find the best places to play our game, but after that we calmed down and started to find the gaps to attack. After the second goal the game was almost finished.”
Barcelona’s win was soured by a fractured tibia suffered by David Villa, however, leaving the Champions League winners without a key member for the clash with Brazil’s Santos, and possibly ruling the striker out of next summer’s European Championship.
“We are really sad for him,” said Mascherano. “We want to give him all our support.”
Barcelona predictably enjoyed almost exclusive possession of the ball from the first whistle, but it was not until the 18th minute that the Catalans first glimpsed a sight of goal. Villa reacted first to pick up a blocked clearance, but goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr got down quickly to block the striker’s shot.
Messi had an attempt at goal thwarted soon after, but when the opener arrived in the 25th minute, it was handed to Barcelona on a plate. Pedro swung a cross into the danger area that Al Sadd defender Nadir Belhadj passed back to Saqr, but knowing that picking up the ball up would concede an indirect free kick, the goalkeeper hesitated before cannoning a clearance against the onrushing Adriano that rebounded into the net.
Villa had a goal ruled out for offside after following up on a saved Andres Iniesta shot, and the striker’s involvement in the match ended soon after when his injury forced manager Pep Guardiola to bring on Alexis Sanchez in his place.
But it was not long before Barcelona had doubled its lead, with Messi threading the ball through for Adriano to drill home a left-footed strike for his second goal of the evening.
Al Sadd belatedly sprung into life with two chances for striker Kader Keita in first-half injury time, but business resumed as normal after the break as Messi drew a shot wide of the post.
Messi was again denied as Saqr parried away a curling free kick, but Barcelona would not be denied for long as Keita added to the Catalans’ tally a minute later. Messi supplied the defense-splitting pass, and Keita took a touch before nudging the ball into the net.
Substitute Maxwell hit a fourth as the game moved into the final 10 minutes, escaping in space down the left before beating Saqr at his near post.
“I feel very happy,” said Al Sadd manager Jorge Fossati, whose team beat Tunisia’s Esperance 2-1 in the quarterfinals to qualify for a crack at Barcelona. “The players on my team, especially the local players, were able to get this very good experience. I’m sure this experience will be very useful for their development.
“We were able to come this far, which was very tough, and we were able to play against the best club team in the world. We did our best given the circumstances.”
PSG sent packing
Big-spending Paris Saint-Germain was eliminated from the Europa League on Wednesday despite beating Athletic Bilbao 4-2 at Parc des Princes.
PSG scored twice in the last five minutes, but it was all for nothing as Salzburg won 3-2 at to join Bilbao in the next round.
The exit will pile the pressure on coach Antoine Kombouare, whose position came under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks after the club’s sporting director Leonardo admitted he had met with former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti.