Moving on from El Clasico, Barcelona boarded a plane to Japan mere hours after their crucial win. This of course was designed to reduce the effects of jet-lag on the squad, as Pep Guardiola has rated this competition above all, for the time being at least. At stake is the honour of being called the World Champions and you have to admit, the tournament may be a little tedious, but that has a nice little ring to it.
It has been suggested that Real Madrid continue to falter against Barcelona because they have an inferiority complex, well, we weren’t even World Champions when we beat them last! However, before we start talking about winning the competition, there are two games ahead of us. The first of which is a semi-final match-up against Al Sadd. The Qatari side won the Asian equivalent of the Champions League to reach the Club World Cup, and a 2-1 victory over Esperance de Tunis ensured their progress to the next round.
To get to know our next opponents better, here’s a little background, instead of my usual preview.
Al Sadd Sports Club run a variety of sports teams, much like FC Barcelona, but that is effectively where the similarities end. Their win over Jeonbuk Motors in the Asian Champions League final was their first win in the competition since 1989, and they haven’t won the Qatari league since 2006/07. However, over the years they have managed to sign a few notable players in the twilight of their careers. Romario stands out, although the Brazilian only played three matches and failed to score during that timespan and Frank Lebeouf also opted to spend a year in Qatar towards the end of his career.
In addition to these "marquee" signings, Al Sadd remains a popular destination for emerging talent with Mauro Zarate being one of the most recent examples. That talent comes primarily from the African nations, with Abedi Pele, John Utaka and Dame N’Doye the most famous names on that particular list. The club is a financial powerhouse, as you would expect from a Qatari club, and it is safe to say that money plays a huge part for any new signing.
Aside from the plethora of Qatar internationals, Al Sadd have flexed their financial muscles to persuade Mamadou Niang from Fenerbahce. He comprises one half of a (relatively) powerful attack with Kader Keita, formerly of Lyon. The defense is marshalled by ex-Portsmouth full-back Nadir Belhadj who scored the winning penalty in the Champions League final. While I may not recognise any of the other players in their squad, one can assume that they will give as good as they have got, and like all teams that square up to the Blaugrana, they will sit back and make it difficult.
Al Sadd are managed by Uruguayan Jorge Fossati who is back for his second stint at the helm of the Qatari side. In his first spell at the club he led the club to a historic quadruple of domestic competitions, and obviously he has won the Asian Champions League in this one; his second spell at the club. For those of you who follow South American football, Fossati is the man who led LDU Quito to such unexpected glories in 2009 and Uruguay to a third place finish in the 2004 Copa America, so his managerial pedigree is nothing to be laughed at.
He will be relishing the chance to do battle with perhaps the world’s greatest manager, although he remains realistic, stating that his side only have a "10% chance" of victory. No doubt he will sacrifice the midfield to the Blaugrana, and hope that his two attackers can create a chance on the counter attack or from a set piece. Nadir Belhadj is a particular menace from set pieces, and as per usual, Barcelona will have to be focused to defend those rare situations when Al Sadd attacks.
This isn’t really relevant to the match tomorrow, but the chairperson has a fairly interesting story to tell. He is the uncle of Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani has already achieved a lot in his life. He led the winning World Cup bid for 2022, and despite claims of rigging, it is fair to say that the Qatari bid won on merit. It shall be interesting to see how he avoids the obvious problems with heat, but Al Sadd’s stadium is air conditioned anyway.
His brother is the ruler of Qatar, and it has been rumoured that he has an interest in buying Manchester United for the sum of £2 BILLION. It is safe to say that they easily have enough money to do just about anything...
Match Prediction: Barcelona should field a weaker team, in lieu of the final, as the fringe players should have more than enough quality to make this a formality. 3-0 Barcelona is my prediction.