Barcelona prepares for tough foe in semifinal


Staff Writer

Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano is expecting a hard physical battle against Qatari side Al Sadd in Thursday’s Club World Cup semifinal, but the Argentine insists his team has no plans to deviate from the fast-passing style that has brought it so much success in recent years.

Barcelona takes on the Asian champions in Yokohama on Thursday in its first game since arriving in Japan late Sunday night, with the Qataris having already tasted tournament action with a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Tunisia’s Esperance earlier the same day.

Barcelona has no need to fear anyone after beating Manchester United in May to capture the Champions League for the third time in six years, but Mascherano knows he and his teammates cannot afford to sleepwalk against Al Sadd.

“We know that the team from Qatar is a really physical team and they are really strong, so I think in this type of tournament it’s not easy to win against that type of team,” he said after Tuesday’s training session in Yokohama. “We will try to be focused from the beginning because I think it will be difficult to win.

“We will not change our style because the style brought us here. We will try to play like we play always, and we will try to do the right thing to get the trophy.”

Defeat for Barcelona would be a massive upset in a tournament often derided for the gap in quality between the participants, but defender Gerard Pique believes the Catalans cannot call themselves the best team in the world if they do not win Sunday’s final.

“It’s really important, because a lot of people are saying that we play the best football and we are the best team, but you have to show why,” he said. “You have to win this kind of title because in history, after 10 or 20 years they will remember you for the titles, not for how you play.”

Barcelona began Tuesday’s session by meeting schoolchildren who have been displaced from the nuclear no-go zone in Fukushima Prefecture, and Pique was more than happy to bring a smile to their faces.

“It was really nice to meet them,” he said. “We gave them shirts with their names on, and it was nice just to have fun with them a little bit. They have to enjoy moments like this.”

But Mascherano admitted that jet lag is taking a toll on the players, with a flight immediately after Saturday’s 3-1 Spanish League win over Real Madrid giving them little time to get their bearings in Japan.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “It’s not easy to sleep well, but we are trying. It’s difficult because there are a lot of hours’ difference between Japan and Barcelona, but we are trying to adapt in time for the game.

“For the other teams, they have more time to prepare for this tournament. For us it’s difficult because we played on Saturday and arrived here after the game after 13 hours’ traveling. It’s difficult but we know how good it is to get the trophy. To win this type of tournament means that we are the best team in the world.”

Manchester City loses


Manchester City won’t be running away with the English Premier League.

City’s 17-game league unbeaten streak ended as Frank Lampard converted a late penalty kick that lifted Chelsea to a 2-1 victory Monday night.

“Chelsea were really lucky in this game,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. “We are disappointed with this defeat but we have time to recover.”

Mario Balotelli put the visitors ahead after 105 seconds, but Raul Meireles tied it in the 34th minute.

Lampard replaced Meireles in the 73rd and tied the score nine minutes later, beating goalkeeper Joe Hart with a shot down the middle after City defender Joleon Lescott used a hand to block an attempt by Daniel Sturridge.

“I had a feeling in the second half that it was going to be our night,” Lampard said. “You’ve got to be big enough to stand up and take them (penalties), and I was very relieved when it hit the back of the net.”