It did not take long for Barcelona to upset Santos’ well-laid plans in Sunday’s FIFA Club World Cup final, the Catalans cruising into a 2-0 lead after only 24 minutes - a margin that would have been greater had they taken all the chances that came their way. Having resigned themselves to their fate even at that early stage, Muricy Ramalho’s men were in reflective mood after the final whistle, describing the game not as an opportunity missed but as a chance for them to learn from the very best.
In the immediate wake of defeat, Santos starlet Neymar even described the game as a footballing lesson, a view he later explained in more detail to FIFA.com. “What Barcelona did today was amazing,” said the 19-year-old. “They were far, far the better team and we learned how to play football today. I’ve grown up watching this side play and learning from them, but you take in so much more out on the pitch. I’m going to look on this game as a lesson, that’s for sure.”
O Peixe coach Muricy Ramalho used the post-match press conference to explain the tactics he used in trying to combat the Barça machine, which involved fielding three centre-halves in Bruno Rodrigo, Edu Dracena and Durval and flooding the midfield, the idea being to prevent Pep Guardiola’s side from recycling possession.
As Ramalho admitted after watching his side concede four goals, countless chances and 71 per cent possession, the gameplan failed, the main reason for that being the sheer quality of the opposition his side was up against.
“Even scoring a goal against them is tremendously difficult,” Santos captain Edu Dracena told FIFA.com. “We spoke a lot about how to do that but when you’re out there it’s an entirely different proposition. It’s frightening the way they keep position, stay patient and link up with each other. One minute you think you’ve got them under control and the next there are players popping up in the box from nowhere.”
Speaking after performing another of his midfield recitals, Barcelona orchestrator Xavi voiced surprise on hearing that the Santos players were intent on learning from their heavy defeat: “Well, if that’s what they say. I think it speaks volumes for their character.
“I think the biggest difference is the pace of the game,” he continued. “We play a pressing game up front and we give very few balls away in the midfield. We had an extra man in that area today and that meant we had more people making runs from further back.”
The extra midfielder was coach Guardiola’s response to the absence of injured front men David Villa and Alexis Sanchez. As that ability to turn adversity to their favour shows, the European and world champions operate on a different plane to other teams, a point Dani Alves made. “At the end of the day, it has to be said that there are few if any teams that have as much individual quality as we do,” explained the full-back. “When we play as well as that, it’s difficult for any team to live us, not just Santos.”
Consolation is usually hard to find after a 4-0 loss, but Santos can take plenty from the one they suffered today.