Words barely do justice to the sustained excellence that Barcelona have achieved during Pep Guardiola’s glittering reign. The European champions hit the heights again on Sunday as they crushed Santos 4-0 to win their second FIFA Club World Cup title in three years, performing with the poise, grace and brilliance that the football world has come to expect from them.
One of the virtues that sets the Catalan entertainers apart is their happy knack of playing their very best football when there is silverware at stake, a quality they have underlined time and again throughout a virtually flawless 2011. Seemingly unaffected by the nerves that afflict other less gifted sides on the big occasion, Guardiola’s charges thrive on pressure, producing the goods on demand and putting opponents to the sword with ruthless yet utterly stylish efficiency.
“The thing is we love playing finals and we’ve had so much experience of playing them lately that we’re pretty relaxed when we go out on the pitch,” explained midfield linchpin Xavi in conversation with FIFA.com after Barça had chalked up their 13th trophy success in the 16 competitions they have contested under Guardiola so far. “Our mindset today was to go out and get a good result just by playing our usual game. Fortunately, that’s how it worked out.”
Just another day at the office
One of the hallmarks of Barcelona’s recent performances in major finals is the extent to which they control possession, regardless of the opposition. Xavi and Co had the ball for 71 per cent of Sunday’s final, firing in 16 shots to Santos’ eight. Those figures are similar to the ones they recorded in downing Manchester United 3-1 in the UEFA Champions League final in May, when they enjoyed 67 per cent of possession and had 16 goal attempts, over five times as many as Sir Alex Ferguson’s hard-pressed team.
“The harder the game, the more character we show,” Dani Alves told FIFA.com. “We proved that again today, just when everyone was expecting – and not without reason –a close game. We went out there and played our best football, which is not easy in a one-off game like this, and we were far the better team. We’re used to competing at this level and that’s one of the secrets of our success. We just love playing these games.”
That applies just as much to the whole team as it does to their star player. The sight of Lionel Messi getting his name on the scoresheet in big games and collecting man of the match awards has become just as much a feature of Barcelona’s finals outings as his colleagues and he playing keep-ball against the world’s most prestigious teams.
“The team was up for it and so was I,” said the Argentinian, the scorer of a brace against Santos and the only player to have hit the back of the net in two FIFA Club World Cup finals. “I scored against Estudiantes in the 2009 final, I was on target against Manchester United in the Champions League final and I scored again today. I like these types of games.”
As Messi and his insatiable team-mates showed again in Yokohama, that is something that goes without saying.