In a performance that never looked like Barcelona losing, the Catalans prevailed in the Club World Cup Semi-Final against Guangzhou to secure a place in the final against River Plate. Barcelona were led by the only healthy member of the MSN trident, Luis Suarez, who scored all three goals for Barcelona.
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Luis Enrique started the match with arguably his best eleven available. With Neymar out with injury and Lionel Messi out with renal colic, Suarez was joined in attack by Sergi Roberto and Munir El Haddadi. The only "surprise" in the XI came in goal where Barcelona's "cup goalkeeper" was left on the bench and Claudio Bravo started the match.
The start to the match was slow, with Barça predictably controlling the ball basically from opening kickoff, but the Champions League winners struggled to get through the Chinese wall of defenders. When Barcelona were in possession the Guangzhou players rarely pushed players into the Barcelona half. It was clear that the Luiz Felipe Scolari led team will look to create their chances from Barcelona turnovers in midfield.
Barcelona found little to no space to operate in the final third as Guangzhou closed down space excellently. The Chinese team even "attacked" a couple of times, almost exclusively by quickly transition from defense to attack after turnovers, but the Barcelona defense, Javier Mascherano especially, assured Bravo had no work for most of the half.
Barcelona's first chance came after Suarez was brought down just outside of the area for a dangerous free kick. Ivan Rakitić placed the ball for himself and seemed to send a good shot goalward, but the wall prevented the ball from reaching the goalkeeper. It took Barcelona over half an hour to first test Li Shuai in Guangzhou's net. The chance came after a beautiful diagonal ball from Andres Iniesta right into the path of Munir, but Li closed down the angle excellently and the youngster could only hit the goalkeeper with his shot.
The Club World Cup then witnessed another horrific injury, leaving Barcelona fans remembering the David Villa injury in 2011. The time Zou Zheng was the unlucky player who had to be carried off after having his left leg completely twisted after falling extremely awkwardly after he and two other players were fighting for space.
Maybe the Guangzhou players were still slightly rattled after seeing their teammate in such pain, but Barcelona managed to take the lead just five minutes after the incident. Rakitić powered a curling shot straight down the middle that Li couldn't control, leaving a juicy rebound right in front of him. Suarez was the first player there and from in close he made no mistake, putting Barcelona in the lead.
The last five minutes of the half were highlighted by poor Barcelona defense that needed Bravo to bail them out with an excellent diving stop of Elkeson's header. Guangzhou also threatened from a couple of corner kicks, but Barcelona managed to hold on to their lead before the break.
Barcelona might have had problems in the first half breaking down Guangzhou's defense, but the Catalan's had no such problems early in the second as just five minutes in Suarez doubled Barcelona's lead. Iniesta sent a perfect over the top ball to Suarez who controlled it with his chest and wasted no time in putting the ball on target. Li was able redirect the ball, again showing quickness off the line, but it wasn't enough to direct the ball past the far post, leaving Suarez the third Barcelona player to score a brace in the Club World Cup, after Adriano Correia and Messi.
Barcelona didn't let up, quickly continuing with attack after attack, coming close to adding to their lead in the 55th minute, but Iniesta's long range effort went just over the crossbar. But Barcelona managed to score in the 66th minute after Munir went down in the area after the slightest of touches. Suarez stepped up to take it and powered it to the goalkeeper's right to complete the hat-trick and become the first player ever to score three goals in a single match in the Club World Cup.
Barcelona then took their foot of the gas, hoping to calmly bring the match to an uneventful end without losing too much energy with the next game just three days away. There were the occasional attacks - from both sides, but neither team played with much urgency. Lucho also gave some rest to starters Roberto, Jordi Alba and Iniesta, replacing them with Sandro Ramirez, Adriano Correia and Sergi Samper.
In the final Barcelona will face Argentine side River Plat, the winner of the 2015 Copa Libertadores. The game will be played on Sunday at 11:30 CET, the same time as today's Semi-Final.
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