The stakes could barely be higher for the FIFA Club World Cup 2009 final between Estudiantes and Barcelona, with the Catalan giants determined to claim their sixth piece of silverware in 12 months and the Argentinian heavyweights aiming to build on their remarkable Copa Libertadores success.
Sure to catch the eye at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi will be Barça No10 Lionel Messi, who came off the bench to score instantly in the UEFA Champions League winners’ 3-1 semi-final success over Atlante of Mexico.
I first became friends with him at the Copa America in 2007. I was very new to the scene and he helped me a lot, something I’ll always be grateful for.
“My ankle’s fine,” said Messi, who had failed to start Los Azulgranas’ tournament opener against the CONCACAF champions due to an ankle problem. “It was a bit sore after the Atlante game but it didn’t swell up or anything. I’m ready to play against Estudiantes.
Andres Iniesta will miss out, however, with the gifted midfield schemer, who along with Messi and team-mate Xavi is among the five shortlisted for this year’s FIFA World Player award, having failed to recover in time from a thigh injury.
“It’s a shame that Iniesta will miss out, because he’s hugely important to the team. And for him in particular it’s also very sad to miss the final. But we’ve got a great squad and the rest of the players will give their all to win against Estudiantes,” said Messi.
“As players we share the same attitude as our coach. We want to win this sixth title more than anything, and make history in the process,” continued the Argentina international, underlining the squad’s synergy with coach Josep Guardiola.
“We’ve all come here to bring the Club World Cup trophy back to Barcelona. The mood in the camp is really good, there’s a really positive vibe and we’re determined to do what it takes to take the cup back to Spain.”
Adding extra spice to Saturday’s final is that Messi will be meeting a club from his homeland as well as well as coming up against a good friend in the shape of fellow Albiceleste stalwart Juan Sebastian Veron. “It’ll be the first time I’ve played against an Argentinian team, and naturally the fact that Juan Veron will be there will make it special too.”
“I first became friends with him at the Copa America in 2007. Back then he helped me settle in with the national squad and it was thanks to him that I felt very comfortable right from the start. At that point I was still very new to the scene and he helped me a lot, something I’ll always be grateful for.”
Another familiar face will be El Pincha’s right-back Clemente Rodriguez, a former player at Barcelona’s city rivals Espanyol, with Messi and Rodriguez going head-to-head in a Catalan derby back in 2007/08. “Rodriguez is a very fast, skilful and clever player,” said the diminutive playmaker.
“He likes bombing forward and he’s also very good defensively. But this match won’t be decided by a duel between me and him or Veron and I. There will be loads of other decisive factors.”
Both teams have an equal chance and will give everything they’ve got to win the title. We’re taking this match very seriously.
And despite football experts across the globe making Barça firm favourites to take the global prize, Los Blaugranas’ main man refused to be drawn into predictions. “There are no favourites in this final. We’re up against a great team, who’ve won South America’s biggest club competition.
"Both teams have an equal chance and will give everything they’ve got to win the title. As far as we’re concerned, all I can do is underline that we’re taking this match very seriously and that we’ll try to play our usual game. Everything else will have to wait until Saturday to find out.”