If there is one club with a special relationship with the FIFA Club World Cup, it is Barcelona. Two-time winners of the competition, Los Blaugrana have been responsible for some of its most memorable moments since the current format was adopted in 2005.
Who could forget their spectacular comeback in the 2009 final against Estudiantes or their ruthless display against Santos two years later, not to mention their unexpected defeat to Internacional in 2006, a setback that spelled the end of the glorious era inspired by Frank Rijkaard and Ronaldinho?
Absent through injury from the first of those triumphs and central to the second, Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta embodies the club’s desire to win an unprecedented third title. With just a few hours to go before his side steps out against Guangzhou Evergrande in the semi-finals, the stylish midfielder tells FIFA.com: “We’re demanding the very best of ourselves.”
History in the making
Barça are about to make their bid to enter the competition’s record books. One of only two sides to have won the FIFA Club World Cup twice, Corinthians of Brazil being the other, they are aiming to strike out on their own as the most successful team in its history.
We want to win another title and round off a spectacular year.
The winner of 28 trophies for club and country to date, Iniesta is aware of the importance of registering another era-defining triumph: “It’s a great opportunity. We came to Japan to win another title and we’re absolutely determined to do so. We’re very excited. We know that we’re the favourites, and that’s making us take the tournament even more seriously.”
Now 31, the midfielder has experienced every emotion with his beloved Barça, from his debut under Louis van Gaal in 2002, a difficult time for the club, to the glorious tenures of Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola. Few are better qualified than him, therefore, to assess the Barcelona of today: “I think we have a fantastic squad. We all know the kind of football we want to play and we’re all pulling in the same direction. We’ve had a fantastic year in which we’ve won the lot, deservedly so. And we want to do it again.”
A special challenge
Aside from its potentially historic significance to the club, the trip to Japan also gives Iniesta the chance to lift his first trophy as Blaugrana skipper. Only too happy to shoulder his responsibilities, he said: “It definitely motivates and excites me. The fact that we’ve got such a good dressing room and players with so much character does make things a whole lot easier though.”
Barcelona have arrived in Japan in fine fettle, although two recent draws in the league have taken some of the gloss from their memorable clásico win over Real Madrid. Despite the blip, Iniesta is not overly concerned and expects the team to be at their best in the Club World Cup.
“We’re the league leaders and we’re through to the next round of the Champions League,” he said, displaying the same calm authority that he shows in controlling matches from the midfield: “The team’s riding high and we hope to keep that positive feeling going for the whole year. We know there are going to be times when not everything will work out and that’s when the team has to know how to respond.”
Forever probing on the pitch, Iniesta is similarly analytical in discussing form and how to maintain it: “You can always improve, and in football you have to improve from one day to the next. What works perfectly today might not do so tomorrow, because when you draw or lose all these doubts can start entering your head. We need to keep doing things well because everything can change in football in the space of a week. We’ll be trying hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Thoughtful, measured and ambitious, Iniesta signed off by setting out Barcelona’s objectives at Japan 2015: “We’re demanding the very best of ourselves, just as we always do at this club. Every time we’ve come here we’ve always been very impressed, and we want to create the very best impression on the fans. We couldn’t be more excited. We want to win another title and round off a spectacular year.”