Which continent’s champions will claim club football’s biggest international crown: South America or Europe? This question will be answered on Sunday as River Plate and Barcelona face each other in a competitive fixture for the first time ever, in the eagerly awaited final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015.
River Plate-Barcelona, International Stadium Yokohama, Sunday 20 December, 19:30 (local time)
Barcelona reinforced their status as title favourites by comfortably defeating Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 in their semi-final. With Lionel Messi missing the game through illness, Luis Suarez took centre stage for the Spanish side by scoring all three goals. By contrast, River Plate faced a sterner test en route to the final, with goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero ensuring they did not fall behind in their encounter with Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima before Lucas Alario headed his team into the final after 72 minutes.
Buoyed by this victory, River Plate are now aiming to win their first FIFA Club World Cup, while Barcelona will do everything in their power to ensure they lift the trophy for the third time after previous triumphs in 2009 and 2011, a result that would make them the most successful club in the history of the tournament. The UEFA Champions League winners may consider it a good omen that their opponents in the final of the 2009 competition in the United Arab Emirates were also from Argentina, with Pedro and Messi finding the target to secure a 2-1 extra-time win over Estudiantes de La Plata that year.
4 – River Plate could become the fourth South American team to win the FIFA Club World Cup, a feat previously achieved by Brazilian representatives Corinthians in 2000 and 2012, Sao Paulo in 2005 and Internacional in 2006. Los Millonarios are also the fourth Argentinian club to reach the final of a FIFA Club World Cup after Boca Juniors in 2007, Estudiantes in 2009 and San Lorenzo in 2014.
“We want to win the match by playing the same way we always do. We can only guarantee a close-fought final by playing the way we do in crucial games. We can do it if we all stick together.”
Leonel Vangioni, River Plate defender
“River Plate was a part of my life in the same way that Barcelona is now. I’ve been playing for this club for six years now and feel very deeply connected to it. While I certainly haven’t forgotten my roots, there’s no room for emotion in this situation. I have a chance to win the Club World Cup again and I want to make the most of it. Everyone at this club wants to win the title because it’s not easy to qualify for this tournament.”
Javier Mascherano, Barcelona defender