Monday 19 December 2011

Rampant Barcelona take world title as Kashiwa miss out on bronze



FC Barcelona lived up to their billing as one of the greatest sides ever to have graced the world of football by crushing Santos 4-0 to lift the FIFA Club World Cup in Yokohama, but Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol missed out on the medal ceremonies after defeat to Al-Sadd of Qatar in the third-place playoff.

The two Asian sides had required penalties to separate them following a goalless stalemate in Sunday’s warm-up act, but the Catalans wasted little time in proving that they and Lionel Messi – not Neymar and his fellow Brazilians – were the main attraction. Goals from Messi, Xavi, and Cesc Fabregas opened up a daunting 3-0 lead by the interval, before the Argentine struck gold again late on to cap a Golden Ball-winning performance.

A bright, open start to the match soon gave way to the now-customary Barcelona dominance as the champions of Spain and Europe passed the ball around at will and pressurised the Santos goal in numbers. On 17 minutes, the crowd at the Yokohama International Stadium rose to its feet when Xavi stretched a heel behind him to perfectly control and bring down an airborne pass, before sending a precision through ball for Messi to loft delicately over the onrushing Rafael Cabral.

Xavi shared the acclaim and found the net himself seven minutes later – seizing the ball inside the penalty area after a cutback from Dani Alves had just evaded Durval and Bruno Rodrigo, and smashing a low shot past the goalkeeper.

With Neymar struggling to get a look in, it was Borges who had the first real chance for Santos, hitting a low shot from a tight angle into the arms of Victor Valdes. But the waves of Barcelona attacks were simply relentless and perhaps best embodied by the manner of the third goal shortly before half time.

Messi just about managed to keep his footing as he evaded a desperate challenge in the penalty area, allowing Alves to get in a cross which Cabral did well to punch away. But Thiago Alcântara was immediately on hand to head the ball back towards goal, and even though Cabral recovered his position to save again, he was helpless to prevent Fabregas from netting the final rebound.

The fourth goal was perhaps the most special. With the Santos defence stretched, Messi appeared to have taken a heavy first touch from Alves’s low pass, but just as the ’keeper looked set to collect, the Argentine reached out a leg and stabbed the ball into the ground with his studs, sending it bouncing beyond his opponent and allowing him to recover his balance to slot home.

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In jubilant mood after adding the Club World Cup to the Supercopa de España and European Super Cup collected soon after his summer arrival from Arsenal, Fabregas stopped to speak to the Minutecast after the final.

“It’s a very good day for this football club. It’s been very difficult to get here because you have to win the Champions League, then you have to win the semi-final game and the final against teams that maybe we are not used to because they come from other countries and different places in the world.

He added, “If you say that it’s easy, it’s because we played a very serious game – very professional and disciplined – and that made it look easy. But it wasn’t easy at all.

“We’re always relaxed. I think this team loves pressure; this team loves these kinds of games, and that’s why they won as much as they did already in these last four seasons. I think they don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore, and all we have to do is keep believing that we can do more.”

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In the playoff for third place, Kashiwa gave a strong account of themselves against a Qatari side crowned as continental champions last month but were repeatedly thwarted by goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr throughout the 90 minutes and, decisively, in the penalty shootout.

With Al-Sadd once again sitting deep, the game began slowly before Junya Tanaka went close to scoring twice within a matter of moments midway through the first half. The forward’s low shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area struck the near post, while a second effort soon afterwards from Koki Mizuno’s determined cutback was somehow kept out at close range by Saqr.

The man between the posts stood firm to deny a number of other hopeful Kashiwa efforts, including a Hideaki Kitajima header and a long-range strike from Jorge Wagner, while opposite number Takanori Sugeno also demonstrated fine form in keeping out powerful efforts by Kader Keita and Ibrahim Abdulmajed.

The game went straight into a shootout after 90 goalless minutes, and in a cruel twist of irony, it was Ryohei Hayashi – who struck the winning penalty in Kashiwa’s quarter-final with Monterrey – who was denied on this occasion by the dive of Saqr. Nadir Belhadj then slotted home Al-Sadd’s fifth penalty from five to clinch third place and the bronze medals.

Reysol manager Nelsinho Baptista struggled to hide his disappointment during his post-game press conference, but was keen to stress how far the side had come just two weeks after clinching their first J. League title – and a year after promotion from J2.

Quoted by FIFA.com, the Brazilian said: “In my view, Kashiwa were the only team who tried to win during the 90 minutes. If you look at shots on goal and possession of the ball, I am sure we would be ahead of Al-Sadd in these respects. But once again, as it was against Santos, we were unable to take our chances. We must learn that, in tough games like these, we cannot afford to waste so many opportunities.

“But the status of this club has changed through competing in this tournament and we are able to hold our heads high because we have competed proudly.”


FIFA Club World Cup final result
Santos (BRA) 0-4 Barcelona (ESP)

FIFA Club World Cup third-place playoff result
Kashiwa Reysol (JPN) 0
-0 Al-Sadd (QAT) (after 90 minutes; Al-Sadd win 5-3 on penalties)

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