YOKOHAMA – Argentine superstar Lionel Messi recovered from illness to lead Barcelona to a record third Club World Cup title with a 3-0 win over River Plate in Sunday’s final.
Four-time world player of the year Messi missed Barcelona’s semifinal win over Guangzhou Evergrande on Thursday with renal colic, but returned to the starting lineup alongside fellow star forwards Neymar and Luis Suarez to face the South American champions.
And Messi did not disappoint the 66,853 fans at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium, opening the scoring in the 36th minute before Suarez added another four minutes into the second half.
Suarez then sealed the deal with another goal in the 68th minute — his fifth in two games this week in Japan — giving Barcelona its fifth major trophy of 2015 after claiming the Champions League, Spanish League, Spanish Cup and European Super Cup.
“It was a great match with Leo and Neymar, and I felt very strong with them,” said Suarez, who was named player of the tournament. “We were able to win quite easily. Whether I score or not, we played well and we combined well on the pitch.
“We came here to win the title of the No. 1 team in the world, and it’s great that we were able to achieve our goal.”
Barcelona’s win meant European teams have now won eight of the last nine Club World Cups, sending Argentines River Plate and their huge traveling support back to Buenos Aires empty-handed.
“In football it’s difficult to predict the future,” said Barcelona manager Luis Enrique. “You really don’t know what will happen until you get there. This season and last season we won a lot of trophies. We set our goals and achieved them, so I’m very satisfied.
“Now we will spend some time with our families and then come back to the pitch. We will set new goals and strive to achieve them.”
Messi caught his first sight of goal in the 11th minute, letting off a shot that River goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero dived low to his near post to keep out.
Dani Alves cannoned a volley into Barovero as Barcelona probed again, but River began to create more opportunities as the first half progressed and Barca goalkeeper Claudio Bravo had to be sharp to keep out Lucas Alario’s effort in the 30th minute.
Barovero was lucky that a Messi free kick that he let slip through his grasp just missed the target, but there was nothing the goalkeeper could do when Barca’s talisman opened the scoring minutes later.
Alves swung in a cross that Neymar played back across the box, but there was a suspicion of handball as Messi allowed the ball to roll up his body before poking it home with his left foot.
Suarez went close to giving Barcelona a two-goal lead to take into halftime, but the Uruguayan made no mistake four minutes after the interval. Sergio Busquets sliced open the River defense with a pass into space, and Suarez latched onto it before dispatching the ball past Barovero.
Suarez helped himself to another in the 68th minute, nodding home a pinpoint cross from Neymar to put Barcelona home and dry.
Bravo then tipped a Gonzalo Martinez shot onto the post in the 84th minute, denying River’s boisterous fans even a consolation goal to celebrate.
“The title of world’s No. 1 is very important and now we want to win even more titles,” said Suarez.
Earlier in the day, J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima took third place at the tournament with a 2-1 win over Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
Brazilian international Paulinho gave Guangzhou a fourth-minute lead, only for substitute Douglas to come off the bench and deliver the win for Sanfrecce with goals in the 70th and 83rd minutes.
“This was Guangzhou’s third game at this tournament and our fourth, but including the J. League Championship this was our sixth game in recent weeks,” said Sanfrecce manager Hajime Moriyasu.
“But when things get difficult my players show their strengths of patience and tenacity. I’m very satisfied that my players played as patiently as they usually do today.”
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