YOKOHAMA – Barcelona became world champions for the second time after blowing Santos away with a 4-0 masterclass in the Club World Cup final on Sunday night.
Santos went into the match at Nissan Stadium confident that young stars Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso could help spring an upset over the Catalan superstars, but the South American champions’ dreams had turned to dust as early as the 24th minute as reigning world player of the year Lionel Messi and Xavi gave Barcelona a two-goal lead.
Cesc Febregas added another a minute before halftime, and even though the Brazilians managed to stem the tide and avoid a whitewash after the break, Messi notched his second in the 82nd minute as Barcelona made its position as the world’s best team official with a performance truly worthy of the title.
“Messi is the best player in the world,” conceded Santos manager Muricy Ramalho. “There is no question about that.”
Barcelona’s early domination meant it was no surprise when Messi scored the opener in the 17th minute, but the precision and quality involved were still enough to take one’s breath away. Xavi controlled the ball with an outrageous flick of his boot before filleting the Santos defense with his next touch, and Messi applied the most delicate of killer blows with a chip that sailed over goalkeeper Rafael Cabral’s head before nestling in the back of the net.
After only 24 minutes, the game was as good as over as Xavi doubled Barcelona’s lead. Dani Alves sped down the right wing before playing the ball into the center, and Xavi picked his spot to calmly slot home with his right foot.
Borges had a shot saved after a rare foray forward by Santos, but Fabregas hit the post as Barcelona resumed its ferocious onslaught before the former Arsenal man got his name on the scoresheet in the last action of the first half.
Messi and Alves again combined to destroy Santos down the right flank, and Fabregas followed up after Rafael Cabral had kept out a diving header from Thiago.
Fabregas almost had another as Barcelona began the second half in the same imperious form, and although Borges and Neymar began to see more of the ball in attacking areas for Santos, Alves, Messi and Andres Iniesta all went close to extending the Spaniards’ lead.
Santos captain Edu Dracena was yellow carded for checking Messi as the Argentine hit top gear with another mesmerizing run, and Alves — a right back playing the second half as a striker — hit the post before setting Messi up for his second of the match. The Brazilian broke through the Santos defense, and Messi bamboozled Rafael Cabral before guiding the ball into the net.
The final whistle brought Barcelona its second world title in three years, and its first in Japan after missing out in 1992 and 2006.
Kashiwa Reysol failed to claim third place in the earlier match, with the J.League champions losing 5-3 in a penalty shootout against Qatar’s Al Sadd after drawing 0-0 in regulation time.
Ryohei Hayashi, who scored the winning spot kick in last Sunday’s quarterfinal shootout victory over Mexico’s Monterrey, missed Kashiwa’s third attempt, leaving Nadir Belhadj to slot home Al Sadd’s fifth and claim regional bragging rights for the Asian champions.
“In my view Kashiwa were the only team who tried to win during the 90 minutes,” said Reysol manager Nelsinho. “If you look at shots on goal and possession of the ball, I’m sure we would be ahead of Al Sadd.
“But just as it was against Santos, we were unable to take our chances. We must learn that in tough games like these, we can’t afford to waste so many opportunities.”
Milan takes top spot
AC Milan moved provisionally to the top of the Serie A standings with a 2-0 win over Siena on Saturday, which leaves the Tuscan side even more in danger at the foot of the table.