When Zlatan Ibrahimovic left Inter Milan to join Barcelona last summer, the Swedish striker was desperate for international success. Although widely regarded as being one of the game's top players, he had only domestic league and cup victories to his name and no trophies on the international stage.
All that changed when the Swede moved from Italy to the Catalan giants. The UEFA Champions League winners defeated Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0, enabling Ibrahimovic to celebrate his first European silverware in the form of the UEFA Super Cup. And the four-time Swedish footballer of the year is now in Abu Dhabi with his sights set on the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009. Despite having accumulated countless titles in their 110-year existence, Los Azulgranas have yet to win this particular tournament, but they established themselves as firm favourites after their first match in the Emirates.
Despite going behind in the opening minutes of their semi-final against CONCACAF champions Atlante, Barcelona spent most of the game in the ascendancy. In the end they ran out comfortable 3-1 winners as they moved a step closer to what would be an incredible sixth title this year. Ibrahimovic played a major role in the victory, setting up Lionel Messi's goal with a piece of individual brilliance and putting in a fine all-round performance.
"It was no easy match, it was tough," said the Barça No9 in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "Atlante went ahead after five minutes, leaving us chasing the game from the off. That put us under extra pressure – it was a World Cup semi-final after all. We were very patient though and managed to equalise in the first half. After the break we had a bit more room to move the ball around, create more chances and score another two goals, which meant that we could control the game."
Though Guillermo Rojas's opener served as a necessary wake-up call for the Catalan side, Pep Guardiola's men did not panic. "My first thought was 'stay patient'. I knew we had to keep calm, create some chances and score some goals, and that's exactly what we did," said the 1.91m striker.
To the delight of the 41,000 spectators in the Zayed Sports City Stadium, Barcelona stepped up their game after the break, playing a pacy and direct brand of football which totally stifled the Mexicans.
"We're always looking to create things out on the pitch. Each of us is there to support the others, and that obviously really helps. We're Barcelona, we help each other out, try to keep the ball moving and create chances. But the most important thing of all is that we win. We're managing to do that pretty well at the moment, and I hope that we'll carry on being so successful," said Ibrahimovic, who has already notched some 11 goals in 13 Liga matches in the Primera Division.
The Blaugrana can expect a battle royal in the final against Copa Libertadores winners Estudiantes de La Plata, and Ibrahimovic for one is not underestimating his opponents.
"We haven't analysed them yet, but Estudiantes are a strong Argentinian club who have made it through to the final of the Club World Cup," said the player, looking ahead to Saturday evening's showdown in Abu Dhabi. "It won't be an easy match – it never is against South American opposition. But we have a good team and I hope that we play the way we did against Atlante, except the first five minutes of course!"