Atlante's dreams of winning the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 are over. The CONCACAF champions went down 3-1 to Barcelona in the semi-finals and now face Pohang Steelers in the third place match on Saturday.
Following a comprehensive 3-0 win over New Zealand's Auckland City in their opening match, the Mexican side went into the last four showdown full of confidence. However, despite grabbing an early goal, they were soon on the back foot and it was the Spanish champions who ultimately claimed a deserved victory at the Zayed Sports City Stadium.
"We knew it was going to be a difficult game, but normally we pass the ball a lot better," explained midfield schemer Santiago Solari in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "It was a great experience for our younger players to play against Barcelona. If there is a next time, I'm sure we'll perform a lot better."
Early lead swiftly overturned
Shortly after Guillermo Rojas had given his side an early lead, the North Americans missed a massive chance to double their advantage when 20-year-old Fernando Navarro failed to keep his nerve in front of Victor Valdes' goal.
"We knew that the match was 90 minutes long and even if we had scored a second then the remaining 80 minutes would have been just as tough. Of course it may have made Barcelona a little more nervous, but our lead was a delicate one and Barça always have the class to turn a game on its head within the space of a couple of minutes," continued Solari.
From then on it was the Spanish giants who dictated proceedings, notching an equaliser on 35 minutes before really turning on the heat in the second half. Lionel Messi put Josep Guardiola's side in front with his first touch after coming on as a substitute and for the rest of the match the Mexicans were left chasing shadows as the Primera Division champions cruised to victory.
Focus turns to Pohang
"Messi wasn't the deciding factor," said the former Argentina international. "Barcelona just played better than we did and kept hold of the ball superbly. We did well in defence, which is a rarity for us, but we were lacking in attack as a result. It was down to our opponents, though. We simply couldn't get the ball off them. It was unusual for us because normally we're the ones who dominate games. It was very different to playing in the Mexican league."
Atlante must now turn their attentions to their final challenge in Abu Dhabi, the match for third place against AFC Champions League winners Pohang Steelers. Solari is anticipating an exciting encounter and hopes his team finish the tournament on a high.
"Pohang are a good side and it's going to be a difficult game. None of the matches at this tournament have been easy and I'm sure they'll be doing their utmost to beat us to third place."