Barcelona have coasted through to a FIFA Club World Cup final against Santos, although the European champions’ resounding 4-0 victory over Al-Sadd at the Yokohama International Stadium was overshadowed by a serious injury to striker David Villa. The former Valencia star suffered a broken leg towards the end of the first half and will now miss around six months of football, starting with Sunday’s showdown against Neymar and Co.
Villa’s injury aside, this was as problem-free a match as Barcelona will enjoy all season, with Al-Sadd unable to offer much resistance to a team evidently in an entirely different class. Yet this was a night on which the star men took a back seat as some unlikely goalscorers stepped forward, with Adriano grabbing a double before Seydou Keita and Maxwell rounded off a thoroughly convincing win.
It was certainly no surprise that Barça pinned their Qatari opponents in their own half from the outset, with the crowd buzzing in anticipation every time Lionel Messi received the ball. The little Argentinian was generally subdued during a one-sided first half, but the fans were offered an early glimpse Messi magic when he twisted away from a couple of Al-Sadd players after nine minutes only to see his left-footed effort charged down.
Al-Sadd had set out to defend deep, with their midfield sitting far back in an attempt to reduce the space in which Barça famously love to work. It looked to be working too and yet, having kept the Catalans at bay so resolutely, they very nearly gifted their opponents an 18th-minute opener. Ibrahim Abdulmajed was the offender, delaying too long on an attempted clearance that was charged down and sent into the path of David Villa. Clean through, the Spain international struck his right foot shot well enough but goalkeeper Mohamed Saqr - a hero of Al-Sadd’s win over Esperance - spared his team-mate’s blushes with a fine save low to his right.
The Qataris would not be so lucky seven minutes later though, and on this occasion Saqr was at least partially to blame for a calamitous mix-up. Nadir Belhadj was the other, arguably guiltier party, with the Algerian left-back needlessly volleying the ball back to his keeper from a Pedro cross. Unable to handle the back-pass without conceding a free-kick, Saqr attempted to get the ball out of his feet to clear, but succeeded only in booting it against the shins of Adriano, from which the ball rebounded back into the Al-Sadd net.
The goal was no more than Barça deserved for their early dominance, and they had the ball in the net again after 34 minutes only for Villa’s opportunistic effort to be ruled out, correctly, for offside. A couple of minutes later, disaster struck for the same player when he was stretchered from the field after landing awkwardly as he attempted to get a shot in on goal. A club statement later confirmed what worrying TV replays had suggested: that Villa had suffered a broken tibia.
The loss of their team-mate didn’t knock Barcelona off their stride though, and with two minutes to go until half-time they doubled their advantage. Adriano was the unlikely hero once again, and this time there was no luck involved as he cut in from the left on to a reverse pass from Thiago and rifled an excellent left-foot shot beyond the helpless Saqr.
Even with most of the match still to play, it looked to be game, set and match for Pep Guardiola’s men. However, Al-Sadd did provide a warning to the European champions in first-half stoppage time when Kader Keita bustled his way through the Barça rearguard only to fire over at the end of a purposeful solo run.
The one-way traffic towards the Qataris’ goal resumed in the second half though, with Andres Iniesta seeing a ferocious right-foot drive charged down by Ibrahim Abdulmajed, and Saqr producing a brilliant flying save to tip away Messi’s goal-bound free-kick. Nonetheless, the Barcelona No10 was becoming steadily more influential, and on 63 minutes he produced a superb defence-splitting pass to lay on his team’s third. Seydou Keita was the beneficiary, with the Malian midfielder controlling instantly before flicking a left-foot shot beyond the advancing Saqr.
And there was still time for salt to be applied to Al-Sadd’s wounds, with Maxwell adding a fourth goal with nine minutes remaining. Not for the first time, the impressive Thiago provided the vision, threading through an incisive reverse pass that was matched by the powerful left-foot shot the Brazilian substitute sent flashing just inside the near post.