FC Barcelona won their third trophy of the 2011/12 season and fifth in the calendar year with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Santos in the FIFA Club World Cup final. The Blaugrana were at their mesmeric best in the first half with goals from Lionel Messi, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas ensuring that Barcelona went in at the break with a three goal lead. The second half was a mere formality and Lionel Messi completed the scoring in the 82nd minute.
Pep Guardiola stressed the importance of this competition both to the players and press, stating that the chance to be named World Champions does not come along too often, while Cesc Fabregas underplayed the significance of Neymar and Ganso by saying that it doesn’t matter how good they are, as they will not have the ball. Turns out, each was completely right. Guardiola’s side were clearly motivated, and were looking to put on a show for the worldwide audience.
Santos started off on the back foot as Barcelona looked for an early goal. Messi was the main threat with his attempted through balls, but Santos defended well. However, the signs were there; Barcelona were clearly hitting top gear. Thiago combined with Lionel Messi for a one-two, but he was tripped before he could reach the return pass. The Uzbeki referee did not make the call, although it looked a clear penalty to me.
Just a few minutes later he did the same thing, except it was Cesc Fabregas who was tripped looking for the return pass, but again, no foul was called. Lionel Messi looked determined, and despite a slightly deeper position than usual, he was still a menace. Embarking on a run from deep, he skipped past the challenges and fired a shot towards the far corner, which was parried well by the Santos keeper. Thiago tried to direct the rebound into the corner, but appeared to be put off by Fabregas’ run and his attempt was saved.
Barcelona were not be denied, and the breakthrough was absolute quality. Cesc Fabregas was a chipped pass to Xavi, and the Spaniard exhibited supreme control to bring the ball down before lifting it over the Santos defense to Lionel Messi. One-on-one with Cabral, he dinked the ball over the Brazilian keeper for the first goal of the evening. It was a jaw-dropping goal from an exceptional side.
We only had to wait seven minutes for the next goal, as Dani Alves had the ball on the right-hand side and looking for a cross. Lionel Messi timed his run perfectly to draw out two defenders, leaving space for Xavi to receive a grounded cross. Xavi played the ball past the challenge and fired past Cabral on the half-volley. Another superb goal and Barca were in clear control.
The Blaugrana may have been in control, but they never stopped looking for the next goal, and Xavi again was the creator, this time for Cesc Fabregas with a delightful lobbed through ball. Cesc may have thought he was offside (he was not) and that could be why he fired off the post instead of into the net. He would not be stopped at the end of the half though...
Lionel Messi was again superb, this time collecting a cross from the right and evading the challenge of the defender. He could have gone down for the penalty, but he kept his balance and held the ball up to allow his teammates to support him. Back-heeling the ball to Dani Alves, it appeared that he had over played it, but Alves kept the ball in play with a fine cross. Cabral parried that same cross, but only as far as Thiago whose shot was then saved by the determined keeper, before the rebound fell to Cesc and the in-form midfielder finished off the chance and Santos’ chances of an unlikely comeback.
Half-time was upon us, and the game was as good as over, just like against Al Sadd.
The second half started well, with Cesc Fabregas sliding to win the ball deep inside the Santos half. Lionel Messi picked up the loose ball and ran at the Santos defense to create space for Cesc, but the ex-Arsenal man could not find the corner of the net with an admittedly tame effort that trickled inches wide.
Messi was at the heart of everything and this time he combined with Xavi to receive a cross at the back post, subsequently forcing a fine save from Cabral. The highly anticipated clash between the Argentine and Neymar was looking pretty one-sided. The wonderkid did get a chance in the second half, through on goal against Valdes he could have scored, but the Catalan blocked his effort. That being said, Neymar was clearly a threat whenever he touched the ball, but it was not enough for him to have any sort of impact.
All the while Barcelona were staying patient, they knew the game was over. Alves hit the post late on after nice work from Pedro before the Brazilian full-back/winger set up Messi’s second. Displaying his irrepressible work-rate Alves climbed highest to win a header, ran onto the loose ball and played in Lionel Messi who rounded the keeper for Barcelona’s fourth.
As Neymar said in his post-match interview, Barcelona taught Santos how to play football. Visca el Barca: Campeones del Mundo!
Man of the match goes to Lionel Messi, who was spectacular, even by his dizzying standards, but a lot of credit must go to Xavi and Dani Alves. Next up is the second leg of the Copa del Rey tie with Hospitalet!