YOKOHAMA – Argentine superstar Lionel Messi paid tribute to strike partners Luis Suarez and Neymar after the trio combined to deliver Barcelona a record third Club World Cup title on Sunday — and warned the rest of the world they are not finished yet.
Four-time world player of the year Messi returned from a medical complaint to lead Barcelona to a 3-0 win over South American champions River Plate in Yokohama, scoring the opening goal before Uruguayan Suarez added two more in the second half.
Messi and Neymar were playing their first games in Japan this week, having missed Thursday’s 3-0 semifinal win over Guangzhou Evergrande, and Argentine side River felt the full force of the “MSN” reunion as all three ran riot in front of 66,853 at Nissan Stadium.
“Whenever I play with these two players, whether it’s in the league or a cup game, we always combine really well and the three of us play well together,” said Messi, whose participation in the final was in doubt after missing Thursday’s game with renal colic.
“To win the biggest title of them all with Barcelona makes me very happy. We have more important games coming up and I want to keep getting results. This is a great way to end the year.”
The win gave Barcelona its fifth trophy of 2015 to add to the Champions League, Spanish League, Spanish Cup and European Super Cup, and the result never looked in doubt once Messi had broken the deadlock in the 36th minute.
“We work hard and with respect, and we played a complete game,” said Barcelona’s Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic. “It wasn’t easy because our opponents were playing a completely opposite style to us. But we played well and we are really proud to be members of this club and to keep making history.
“It wasn’t easy for Messi after the trouble he had three days ago, but he’s the best in history and that’s not just me saying it — it’s the truth. We are really lucky to have him in the team.”
River arrived in Japan this week with an estimated 15,000 traveling fans, who made their presence felt with a barrage of noise and color starting long before the match kicked off.
Manager Marcelo Gallardo admitted that his side had been outclassed by Barcelona, but also reflected on the strides his club has made in just four years since suffering a first-ever relegation.
“I want to congratulate Barcelona for their victory,” said Gallardo. “They’re a very strong team. We had our game plan, and we were able to execute it for the first 35 minutes before Messi’s first goal. After that, we started to break down a little.
“I feel devastated right now, but in the last six months there have been a lot of positives. We achieved a lot of our goals, so the Club World Cup is really the icing on the cake for us. Unfortunately the tournament came at a time when we weren’t at our peak, but it means something for us to be here.”
The final had extra significance for Barcelona’s Argentine defender Javier Mascherano, who began his career at River and admitted that his powers of professionalism were tested to the limit.
“It was a really difficult game for me, obviously,” said Mascherano, who left River in 2005. “I tried to be as far as possible from the atmosphere, but it was not easy because always you try not to think that you are playing against a former team.
“But football and life is like this. It was a difficult situation for me because sometimes when you play a game like this, everyone is looking at you. I tried to be calm and not think about the team in front of me.”
Barcelona’s players and staff will now take several days off once they return to Spain, and manager Luis Enrique believes they have earned the right to put their feet up.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “I’ve been away from home for a while, but now I will be able to go back and celebrate Christmas with my family and celebrate this victory as well. So the party starts now.
“We have won a lot of titles, but it’s very important how we achieved them. The fans want us to win titles, but the process of how you win those titles is very important to me.”
Barcelona’s latest victory means South American teams have captured only one Club World Cup title in the last nine years, and River goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero believes the cards are stacked in European clubs’ favor.
“The main difference is the economic power that European clubs have,” he said. “It’s completely different. Also they have the capacity to work long-term on a project. Barcelona has been working on the same project for many years now. We were playing against the best team in history.
“They are the best in the world and Messi is the best in history. I was really proud to be able to play against them, but they are too strong. They are the strongest team I have ever played against.”
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