YOKOHAMA – Guangzhou Evergrande manager Luiz Felipe Scolari admits that the absence of injured Barcelona superstar Neymar will make little difference to his team’s chances of beating the European champions in Thursday’s Club World Cup semifinal.
Brazilian forward Neymar has been ruled out of Barcelona’s tournament opener against the Asian champions in Yokohama after hurting his groin in training last week.
But Scolari concedes that a Barcelona team boasting the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic will be able to cope with Neymar’s absence in a way that Chinese side Guangzhou could only dream of.
“This is Barcelona, and they have 26 or 27 players comparable to Neymar,” Scolari, who coached Neymar with the Brazilian national team at last year’s World Cup, said on Wednesday.
“If he was playing for us, losing him would be a big challenge. But because he’s playing for Barcelona, it’s not such a problem for them.
“To play against Barcelona, we have a very clear game plan. Our game plan changes depending on who we play against. Rakitic, Suarez, Iniesta — they have more players than just Messi. We have to pay attention to everybody.”
Neymar is expected to be fit for Sunday’s final should Barcelona get there, and manager Luis Enrique has no complaints over his players’ condition despite only arriving in Japan on Monday
“It’s business as usual,” said Luis Enrique. “The players have already recovered 100 percent and they are ready for tomorrow’s match. There are risks in every game and we know that we have to win if we want to make it to the final.”
Barcelona is looking to claim its third Club World Cup in seven years this week in Yokohama and cap off a stellar year that saw the Catalan giants win the Champions League, Spanish league, Spanish cup and European Super Cup titles.
The Blaugrana head into Thursday’s match in indifferent form having failed to win in any of their last three fixtures, however, and defender Gerard Pique is wary of a Guangzhou side that is unbeaten in its last 28 games.
“We have done a little homework on them and they are a very dynamic team and very good at controlling the ball,” said Pique. “But we won’t play any differently just because we’re playing a team we haven’t played before.
“We will be playing teams that we don’t normally play in this tournament, so it will be different. But this is something to look forward to. As a professional player, it’s experiences like this that are precious.”
Guangzhou booked its place in the semifinals — its second in three years — with a 2-1 win over Mexico’s Club America on Sunday night.
Guangzhou’s winning goal came from Brazil international Paulinho, and with former Real Madrid and AC Milan forward Robinho also in the lineup, the Chinese champions have players with experience at the highest level.
“They have some good forward players, and they have Paulinho and others who have played in Europe,” said Luis Enrique. “These are great players with great experience. Lots of people said that it was a surprise that a Chinese team beat Club America, but anything can happen in football.
“If you lose your focus you can lose the match. Just one slip is all it takes.”
Guangzhou lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich in its last Club World Cup semifinal appearance two years ago, but Scolari believes the overall strength of Chinese soccer has grown since then.
“Chinese football is getting better day by day, especially when we get the chance to play international matches,” said Scolari. “We know what our own qualities are.
“We know that Barcelona are one of the top three clubs in the world, and our players understand that very well. However, my players are strong-willed and intelligent, and I believe we will play well tomorrow.”
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