Spanish and European champions FC Barcelona produced some
champagne football in a comprehensive 4-0 win over Club America of
Mexico to advance to Sunday's final of the FIFA World Club Cup
Japan 2006 in Yokohama.
All that now stands between the Catalans and their first-ever intercontinental crown is Internacional, and judging by today's five-star performance, the Copa Libertadores champions will be hard-pressed to deny Frank Rijkaard's multi-talented outfit.
The final scoreline certainly did not flatter the Dutchman's
aristocrats, who pressed down hard on the accelerator in the
opening 20 minutes as Deco conducted operations in his own
inimitable fashion. With Andres Iniesta and Giovianni Van
Bronckhorst buzzing to great effect around him, the diminutive
Portuguese drove the Eagles to distraction with a delicious array
of first-time passes and continually switched positions with
Ronaldinho to leave the hard-running German Villa and Alejandro
Arguello chasing shadows. Denied the ball, there was simply nothing
the Mexican challengers could do to stem the
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Somewhat surprisingly though, the first chance of the game would fall America's way after only six minutes. Salvador Cabanas' short pass played Claudio Lopez in behind the central defensive duo of Carles Puyol and Rafael Marquez, but after skipping round keeper Victor Valdes, El Piojo overran the ball and the opportunity was lost.
Barca hit back immediately by carving out two excellent chances of their own. Ronaldinho culminated a fine team move by wastefully blazing over from inside the box, before Deco served warning of his shooting prowess when he fizzed a drive just over the bar from the edge of the area.
Rijkaard's men were not to be denied though, and the inevitable opener was not long in arriving. After drifting to the right, Deco found Ronaldinho on the edge of the box, who back-heeled the ball into the path of the onrushing Iniesta. The midfielder's first-time pass found Eidur Gudjohnsen in space on the left side of the area, and the Icelander finished a vintage Barca move off with a fine, low cross-shot (0-1, 11').
Despite falling behind, America continued to sit back in their own half and allow Barca to come at them. With the three-pronged strike force of Cabanas, Lopez and Nelson Cuevas starved of support and cut off from their midfield supply lines, coach Fernando Tena's decision to leave Cuathemoc Blanco on the bench looked misguided at best. Undeterred, Cabanas sought out an unlikely equaliser and almost found one when his long-range effort forced Valdes to produce a smart save.
Sensing an opportunity to kill the game off, Barcelona went in search of a second goal, and it almost came when Gianluca Zambrotta unleashed a cross-shot that flew just wide of Guillermo Ochoa's goal. The honour of extending the lead eventually fell to fellow defender Marquez, who headed home a corner from that man Deco (0-2, 30').
In an attempt to breathe new life into his wilting charges, Tena brought on the talismanic Blanco at the start of the second half. But it was all to no avail as the two-time European champions shifted up another gear. America were indebted to the inspired Ochoa for keeping out Ronaldinho's deft right-foot flick just after the restart, but there was nothing the keeper could do to prevent the Brazilian adding a third with an exquisite finish after Ochoa had parried a Ludovic Giuly shot (0-3, 65').
With Barcelona threatening to run riot, the intrepid Ochoa was left to wage a one-man battle. After drawing the applause of the entire stadium in denying Xavi's goal-bound attempt, he bravely thwarted Ronaldinho once more. Not to be outdone, his opposite number Valdes then prevented Raul Mendoza from snatching a late consolation goal, before Deco capped a sumptuous individual and team display with a sizzling right-foot thunderbolt (0-4, 85'). America were thankful not to concede a fifth when Dinho narrowly missed with another trademark effort in the dying seconds.
On this kind of form it is hard to see the FIFA World Club Cup ending up anywhere else than the Barcelona trophy cabinet. Internacional will surely have plenty to say about that, however, and could yet surprise the Catalans this Sunday in Yokohama.