The game kicked off to an electric atmosphere inside Zayed Sports City. The impressive contingent of Estudiantes fans were typically vociferous, as were the Barcelona fans and the locals, who were largely in favour of the Catalan giants.
Barça exploded into life on seven minutes. Ibrahimovic controlled the ball superbly and his sumptuous back-heel freed Xavi, who raced down the right wing and into the Estudiantes area. However, the 29-year-old midfielder elected to play the ball across the box rather than shoot, and nobody was there to tap home.
Minutes later, it was Messi’s turn to radiate. The Argentinian picked the ball up on the right touchline, inside his own half, and, with seemingly no room to maneuver, somehow managed to deceive two opponents to the delight of the crowd.
Messi was in his irresistible rhythm, a series of captivating dribbles threatening but failing to uncork the South American champions’ rearguard. Xavi thought he had earned Barcelona a penalty on 35 minutes, but goalkeeper Damian Albil’s challenge on him went unpunished.
Estudiantes took a shock lead two minutes later. Juan Manuel Diaz crossed from the left wing, and Boselli got in front of Eric Abidal to power home a header. The Pincharratas devotees went wild.
Barcelona instantly attacked. Ibrahimovic, leaping acrobatically in front of the Estudiantes goalkeeper, almost got a touch on Messi’s inswinging free-kick on 41 minutes. However, Albil gathered the ball to ensure Alejandro Sabella’s team took an advantage in at the break.
Barcelona emerged in determined mood and within minutes, Ibrahimovic had fired inches wide after dribbling past Christian Cellay in the area. The Swedish forward then had another shot blocked by Leandro Desabato.
The UEFA Champions League holders were playing breathtaking football, but were unable to break down their rivals’ resolute defence. Ibrahimovic and Messi continued trying relentlessly, and the latter forced Albil into a save on 70 minutes following a splendid dribble past four Estudiantes players.
Barcelona threw absolutely everything forward in search of an equaliser, but it appeared they would miss the chance to become world champions for the third time – they lost to 2-1 to Sao Paulo in the Toyota Cup – a precursor to the FIFA Club World Cup – in 1992, before falling 1-0 to Internacional three years ago.
Then, dramatically, Barcelona found an 89th-minute equaliser. Gerard Pique, playing as a makeshift striker in his team’s moment of need, flicked the ball for substitute Pedro, whose headed looped into the back of the net.
Extra time commenced as normal time had ended: with Barcelona monopolising possession and creating chance after chance. Messi curled a free-kick just over the crossbar with Albil seemingly beaten, and the Argentinian’s intelligent cross from the right was agonisingly close to finding the stretching Ibrahimovic.
With a penalty shootout ten minutes away, Messi put on his match-winner’s cloak, chesting home Dani Alves’s excellent cross from the right wing.
Barcelona, finally, were the kings of football.