This time, there were no tears of joy flowing from FC Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola’s eyes after his team won the FIFA Club World Cup against Santos FC by an almost record margin of four goals to nil. Instead, the team rallied around captain Carles Puyol as he lifted the golden trophy high in the air while Guardiola observed in his usual state of quiet joy. There were smiles, laughter, jumping, chanting, and a few swag dance moves, but the tears of joy remained in the misty eyes of players and coaches from the best club in the world.
Guardiola fielded a significantly stronger lineup than in the semifinal against Al-Sadd. In fact, he chose almost the same lineup that faced Real Madrid CF in the recent triumphant El Clásico: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Sergio, Thiago, Xavi, Cesc, Messi, and Iniesta in place of Alexis.
Before the game began, the players walked out in T-shirts reading “Mucha Fuerza Guaje” (“Much Strength Kid”) in support of teammate David Villa who fractured his tibia in the semifinal and will miss five months of action. The team knew very clearly that this win would be dedicated to Villa, Afellay, and assistant coach Tito Vilanova who are all suffering from various long-term ailments.
Though many were concerned about Santos’ 19 year old prodigy Neymar, Barça eliminated the issue in the best way possible: by dominating the game. At the 7th minute, Thiago and Messi played some great one-two but were unable to put a shot on goal. Just five minutes later, the two combined again when Messi took a shot from distance that was blocked by Santos goalkeeper Rafael. The rebound fell to Thiago, but he failed to convert the goal.
In the 14th minute, Santos received its first chance from a free kick on the edge of the box after a Piqué foul. The kick was trickily worked, but amounted to nothing. The breakthrough for the dictating Barça came in the 17th minute. Messi was involved early in the play and characteristically made one of his intricate runs forward after Xavi laid off a magnificently controlled two-touch assist. After that, just a delicate chip over the goalkeeper that Santos defender Rodrigo could not clear off the line was all that was needed.
With that goal, Messi became the second FC Barcelona player to score in all six competitions the team had played in that year, following Pedro’s feat back in 2009. Cesc has also accomplished this if his Arsenal and Barcelona goals are combined.
The second goal did not elude the team for too long. In the 24th minute, Xavi changed from assister to scorer when Alves crossed a ball to him at the top of the box. Xavi took one touch to drag the ball past a few defenders and then struck the ball on the half volley, rocketing it straight past Rafael.
With Barcelona up 2-0 only halfway through the first half, Santos tried to pull one back in the 26thminute. Borges did aim a strike on goal but Valdés easily absorbed the shot. In the 28th minute it was Cesc and Xavi working some wonderful combinations that resulted in Cesc narrowly missing a goal after being denied by the post. Two minutes later, Santos made the first substitution of the game when Elano replaced Danilo who was suffering from a bit of a knock after a collision with Abidal.
In the 34th minute, Borges and Puyol endured their first in air collision of the night with the former requiring quick medical treatment. Five minutes later, the first yellow card of the match was shown to Piqué after he fouled Neymar.
Barça continued to run the game and managed one more goal before the halftime whistle. The truly team goal came in the 45th minute after various touches from several players. Alves crossed the ball in the box for Messi. Messi took it to the opposite corner before returning the ball to Alves, who then made another cross right in front of the face of goal. This cross met Thiago for a diving header but was parried by Rafael. The ball escaped only as far as Cesc, though, who was finally able to hit the ball into the net. Cesc dedicated his goal to the injured Villa by holding up seven fingers.
Barcelona enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 lead over a lackluster Brazilian side and almost nonexistent Neymar. With 76 percent of the possession, the team looked primed to collect its second Club World Champion trophy.
It only took a few seconds for Barcelona to start the attack again, as in the 46th minute, Messi and Cesc played back and forth before the latter’s shot rolled just wide of the post. After another five minutes, Messi found Alves with an assist but his shot missed the net. In the 55thminute, Iniesta had a shot go wide. A minute later at the other end of the pitch, Neymar had his first real chance of the game but Valdés was there to save it. Just after, Piqué came off in favor of Mascherano for Barcelona’s first sub.
The next few minutes provided a flurry of yellow cards. The first was doled out in the 71st minute to the newly subbed in Mascherano for fouling Borges. The next came two minutes later for Ganso after tackling Busquets. The 75th minute saw Dracena be likewise booked for a hard tackle on Messi.
In the 78th minute, Thiago was subbed off for Pedro and right after Kardec came on for Borges. That same minute, Alves also hit the post, rejecting Barcelona its sought after fourth goal once more. However, the team did not have to wait much longer, as the 82nd minute produced the quartet. Alves smoothly passed the ball into the center of the box for Messi who used his delicate touches to angle around the ‘keeper and slip the ball to the back of the net.
That same minute, Santos utilized its last substitution when Ganso returned to the bench for Ibson. Two minutes later, Barcelona did the same for Puyol and the almost forgotten Fontàs. The 89th minute nearly had Alves scoring the coveted manita after a great chested assist by Pedro, but the right-back launched his effort over the bar. In the last dying minutes, Barça was still on the attack and Iniesta had an opening for a distance shot, but was deprived by the final whistle.
FC Barcelona can officially be called the world’s best club after a victorious FIFA Club World Cup 2011 campaign. Not only will the players lug around another giant trophy, but they will also wear jerseys emblazoned with the world champion patch for the entirety of 2012. Apart from the powerful performance, abundance of goals, and another title, Barça also proved, beyond a doubt, that it is, indeed, the best team in the world. With Xavi and Messi winning the Silver and Golden Ball, respectively, for best players in the tournament as well as the team overall being presented the FairPlay award, there is no question that Barça really is “més que un club.”