FC Barcelona cruised to victory at the National Stadium in Bangkok, defeating the Thailand National team 7-1 in front of a capacity crowd. Neymar scored his first goal for the club to open the scoring, before goals from Pedro Rodriguez (3), Lionel Messi (2) and Alexis Sánchez secured an emphatic win for the visiting Blaugrana.
Despite being diagnosed with anaemia, Neymar was named to the starting line-up for the first time in his Barcelona career by head coach Gerardo Martino. The Brazilian was joined in attack by Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez, while Cesc Fàbregas started alongside Sergi Roberto in midfield. Alex Song was at pivote and somewhat surprisingly, Frank Bagnack started in the centre of defense with Gerard Piqué. Brazilian full-backs Dani Alves and Adriano completed the defense, with Victor Valdés in goal. Could the Messi-Neymar combination provide a glimpse into the future with a spectacular display, or would the heat and humidity stop the Blaugrana from performing at their very best?
In spite of the capacity crowd, this match started rather quietly; the crowd were far from vocal and Barcelona were taking it easy in the early stages as they adjusted to the humidity in Bangkok. Neymar was demonstrating brief glimpses of his immense ability, drawing a few fouls from the Thai defense, while the midfield was monopolising possession, just as expected. Yet, for the opening ten minutes, Barcelona barely ventured into the final third, let alone threatened the Thailand goalkeeper.
However, that was all about to change as Barcelona moved through the gears for the first-time in the match, tearing the Thailand defense apart with relative ease. Lionel Messi was the instigator, creating the move and playing an integral part in the final stages too, shimmying away from a challenge in the penalty area to slide the ball out wide to Cesc Fàbregas. The former Arsenal captain could have elected for a shot from a difficult angle, but turned the ball back into the centre with a low cross where Neymar was on-hand to divert it into the back of the net with his out-stretched right boot. Hardly a vintage finish from the Brazilian, but what did it matter? Neymar was "finally" off the mark for his new employers.
Less than a minute later, Barcelona surged forward again – this time opting for a slightly less intricate build-up. Instead, Gerard Piqué simply lofted a pass over the top of the Thailand defense for Lionel Messi to chase, and the Argentine was brought down in the area by a clumsy challenge from one of the Thai defenders. The referee duly pointed to the spot, and Messi made no mistake with the finish, finding the right-hand corner of the net with his left-footed penalty.
Then, with 18 minutes on the clock, Barça were at it again, bursting forward in numbers the Blaugrana were full of confidence; Messi was once again the creator, first finding Dani Alves in acres of space on the overlap, then teeing the ball up nicely for Pedro, after Dani Alves’ cut-back found the Argentine on the edge of the Thailand penalty area. Still left with a lot of work to do, Pedro finished in some style, thumping the ball past the Thai keeper at his near post, nearly bursting the roof of the net with his powerful finish.
Now with two goals to his name from two pre-season friendlies, could it be that the Pedro from yesteryear is finally back? Working hard, and adding a clinical edge to the Barça attack; it certainly appears that way, although it’s tough to gauge his form given the relative strength (or lack thereof) of the opposition...
Even with a comfortable advantage, the Blaugrana continued to press forward and yep, you guessed it, Messi was at forefront of the action yet again. Involved in each of the first three goals, Messi was certainly leaving his unmistakable stamp on this game and in typically composed fashion, he helped himself to his second goal of the evening on 26 minutes, capitalising on a loose ball to complete his brace and grab his fifth goal of pre-season.
Now four goals to the good, Barcelona had equalled their four goal first-half haul against Santos in the Joan Gamper Trophy, and were now prepared to go one step further, completing the Manita before the half-time whistle. Lionel Messi’s hard-work and persistence on the left-flank (yes, you read that right) paid off for the Blaugrana as Messi accelerated to the byline, cutting the ball back into the danger area with a fantastic low cross. Sergi Roberto’s dummy bamboozled the Thai defense and Pedro was on hand to finish the chance, dragging the ball into the corner of the net with his "weaker" left foot. It may have only been against Thailand, but Barcelona were in simply irresistible form at the National Stadium.
It was not all plain sailing though for the visitors, Frank Bagnack’s rash, inexperienced challenge earned the hosts a penalty just before the break, and Teerasil Dangda, a striker from Muangthong United coolly converted the chance. Replays indicated that Bagnack’s challenge may have been outside the area, although does it really make much of a difference to the young centre-half? The bottom line is that his tackle was poorly timed and ill-advised – so he deserved to be punished for that.
And plus, it was only a consolation goal in a pre-season friendly.
Content with his side’s dominating first-half performance, Gerardo Martino made full use of his squad, making eight changes at the half-time interval. Victor Valdés remained in goal, but with an entirely different defense in front of him. On came Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba, while Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta formed Barça’s second-half midfield. Cesc Fàbregas however stayed on the field, albeit in Messi’s "false nine" role, with Pedro and Alexis Sánchez in support.
Unfortunately for the Thai XI, even these full-scale changes wouldn’t throw Barcelona off their rhythm. Within minutes of the restart Pedro had completed his hat-trick, latching onto Cesc Fabregas' cross-field pass to delicately lift the ball over the on-rushing Thai keeper; it was an exceptional goal, marking Pedro’s first hat-trick since his treble against Belarus in October 2012 for the Spanish National Team.
Would this performance be enough to earn Pedro a starting role in Gerardo Martino’s star-studded Barça attack? Not if Alexis Sánchez could help it; while he’d only been on the field a few minutes the Chilean had seen enough and was prepared to get amongst the goals himself, converting an easy chance after Andrés Iniesta’s selfless pass left the Chilean with an open goal.
Barcelona came close to an eighth on 54 minutes, only to be denied by the flag of the assistant referee, who ruled out Cesc Fàbregas’ effort for offside. From what I saw from the replays, the decision looked close – and given the scoreline, the referee was probably right to give the hosts the benefit of the doubt.
That "goal" proved to be Cesc Fàbregas’ final action of note in this match; the Catalan was soon replaced by young starlet Jean-Marie Dongou, while Victor Valdés was taken off for Jose Manuel Pinto. The young Cameroonian striker had a good opportunity to notch his fourth goal of pre-season soon after replacing Fàbregas, only to blaze his chance well over the bar. It was a disappointing finish, especially compared to his earlier efforts in Barça’s pre-season – but it’s easy to forget that he’s actually still young, and with time, he’ll improve both his consistency, and composure in front of goal.
Pedro left the field late on, hopefully as a precaution as Barcelona played out the final stages of the second-half. Next up, Barcelona take on Malaysia on Saturday in their final match of pre-season, but until then, Visca el Barça!