YOKOHAMA – Luis Suarez shrugged off the absence of strike partners Lionel Messi and Neymar with a hat trick to send Barcelona into the Club World Cup final with a 3-0 win over China’s Guangzhou Evergrande on Thursday.
Barcelona, which is looking to claim its third world title in seven years this week in Japan, went into the match without superstar forwards Neymar, who has a groin injury, and Messi, who woke up on Thursday morning with renal colic, a type of abdominal pain commonly caused by kidney stones.
Uruguayan Suarez simply picked up the slack in their absence at Nissan Stadium, opening the scoring in the 39th minute before adding two second-half goals to send the European champions into a final showdown with Argentina’s River Plate on Sunday.
“Goals are important but the most important thing is the overall strength of the team,” said Suarez.
“I’m very happy that we can play in Sunday’s game. River Plate are a very strong team, and it’s not easy to win the Copa Libertadores (the South American title). We will give everything to win the world title on Sunday.
“When I was a kid, I used to wake up at 6 o’ clock in the morning to watch this match. It has big sentimental meaning for me.”
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique said the club will assess Messi and Neymar’s condition before making a decision on their participation in Sunday’s final.
But the manager was satisfied with how his team coped in the star duo’s absence, and praised his players for adapting to unfamiliar Asian opposition.
“The team took the game very seriously but there were some mistakes,” Luis Enrique said. “Our opponents were playing a complex game and they had a different style to what we are used to. That meant it took us a bit of time to get going, and we also had injuries to regular players.
“We had some limitations but I think we did well. I don’t think we lacked rhythm. We played a perfect game.”
A 16th-minute foul on Suarez on the edge of the Guangzhou box gave Barcelona its first real chance of the game, only for Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic to cannon his shot into the Chinese wall.
Guangzhou goalkeeper Li Shuai then denied Munir El Haddadi from close range after a defense-splitting pass from Andres Iniesta, before Munir headed just wide of the post in the 31st minute.
Guangzhou was dealt a blow when defender Zou Zheng suffered a gruesome broken leg in the 34th minute, but the Asian champions almost scored immediately afterward from a Huang Bowen header.
Instead it was Barcelona that took the lead minutes later, Rakitic unleashing a long-range shot that Li could only parry into the path of Suarez, who needed no second invitation to bury the rebound.
Suarez doubled Barcelona’s lead in the 50th minute, controlling a pass from Iniesta on his chest before lashing the ball into the net.
And the Uruguayan completed his hat trick 17 minutes later, dispatching the penalty after Huang had brought Munir down inside the box.
“We lost 3-0 to Barcelona, but I think other big clubs have lost to this team by the same score,” said Guangzhou manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose team now faces J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Sunday in the third-place playoff.
“I can only thank the players for what they have done for me this year. But there is one more thing I would like to achieve. In 2013 we were fourth at this tournament, and now we have the chance to finish up one notch.
“This is a learning experience for us.”