Barcelona have been crowned world champions for a second time after a sensational 4-0 victory over Santos in front of an awestruck sell-out crowd at the Yokohama International Stadium.
The magnificent Lionel Messi scored twice, while Xavi and Cesc Fabregas were also on target as the European champions delivered a veritable football masterclass to register the biggest final win in FIFA Club World Cup history. And the scoreline, lopsided as it was, did not in any way flatter a Barça side who produced some breathtaking football en route to reaffirming their status as the world’s foremost footballing force.
Fluent first half
The match had been billed as a battle between Messi and Neymar, and after taking to the field side by side, both were heavily involved in some bright opening exchanges. The Barça No10 was particularly lively, and with 13 minutes on the clock he provided the game’s first noteworthy attempt on goal. Weaving elusively in from the right flank, he drifted away from two challenges before curling in a left-footed shot from 20 yards that Rafael Cabral only succeeded in parrying to the feet of Thiago. Taken aback by the gift, the young midfielder returned the ball goalwards, and a seemingly certain goal was only prevented when the Santos goalkeeper recovered well to block with his body.
Santos coach Muricy Ramalho had attempted to counteract Barcelona’s unique threat by dropping Elano for the more defensive Leo. It was a move aimed at stiffening up a rearguard that had looked porous against Kashiwa Reysol, and yet nothing, it seemed, could stem the tide of Barça attacks. It had been evident from an early stage that the European champions had arrived in Yokohama with an appetite for destruction, and the first step towards dismantling Santos was taken just four minutes later.
Predictably, Messi was the man to provide the cutting edge, with his the classy final touch at the end of a typically intricate passage of play. Working a delightful one-two with Xavi, the Barça talisman burst clear of the Santos defence before lifting a delicate finish over the advancing keeper and beyond a despairing goalline lunge from Bruno Rodrigo.
Even at this early stage, Pep Guardiola’s men looked unstoppable. And if their first goal was superb, their second was positively sublime. Xavi, having claimed an assist on the first, started and finished a mesmerising move that culminated in this elegant midfield conductor half-volleying home from 12 yards after bringing down a deflected Dani Alves cross.
Almost three-quarters of the game remained, but Santos must have realised that damage limitation was now their only hope. Indeed, they had their captain, Edu Dracena, to thank for avoiding a third goal just two minutes later, as he slid in to make a superb saving tackle after Messi had raced through following another one-two, this time with Cesc Fabregas.
While Borges finally forced Victor Valdes into action at the other end shortly after, the one-way traffic towards Cabral’s goal soon resumed. Just before the half-hour mark, another dizzying Barcelona move ended with Fabregas rattling the post from Xavi’s magnificent through ball, and it would not be long before the former Arsenal captain would go one better.
In the final minute of the half, he took the European champions out of sight, and it was no surprise that the goal rounded off another superb passage of flowing football. Messi was again at the heart of it, showing superb footwork before releasing Alves to the byline with a delightful backheel. Cabral could only palm the resultant cross away, and while he scrambled across to block Thiago’s header, the Santos keeper was powerless to prevent Fabregas slotting home the rebound.
Messi makes it four
It had been as impressive a half of football as you could wish to see, and the Catalans began the second in the same fashion. Within two minutes of the restart, Messi and Fabregas were at it again, and on this occasion only a fingertip save from Cabral prevented the Spaniard converting his colleague’s unselfish centre. Barça kept coming, and after Alves had headed wildly wide following yet more Messi prompting, the little Argentinian went through himself and was only denied by the legs of the Santos keeper.
The Brazilians were not without attacking menace themselves and their star forwards both threatened in the minutes that followed, with Valdes saving from Borges and Neymar after both managed to escape their markers. A fourth Barça goal continued to look more likely than a Santos consolation, though, and Andres Iniesta nearly provided another beauty when he volleyed just wide after a neat exchange with Fabregas.
Guardiola’s men would not be denied, however, and with eight minutes remaining they completed the rout. Fittingly, the outstanding Messi again provided the finishing touch, skipping round the keeper to slot home after sprinting through on to an Alves pass. Santos, like the rest of us, could only watch and admire. At least they had the consolation of knowing that they had been beaten by a team that is assured of a special place in football history.