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After winning the Champions League earlier this year, Barça now have the chance to lift the FIFA Club World Cup trophy for the third time. To do that, they have to beat Libertadores Cup winners River Plate, but this is a game that the Buenos Aires giants have been anticipating for months. A fascinating encounter awaits at the 72,327 capacity International Stadium Yokohama.
Barça’s Leo Messi and Neymar both missed the semi-final, the former after an unexpected bout of renal colic and the latter due to a groin strain. However, the two strikers were able to join the rest of the team for training on Saturday and could well be ready in time for the final.
Apart from four Uruguayans and one Colombian, River Plate's fully-fit squad is entirely Argentinian, including former Barça man Javier Saviola, who was an unused substitute in the semi-final.
According to competition rules, all 23 of a team’s players are eligible to play, so there will be no squad announcements on the day of the match.
A confident Luis Enrique was asked what he feels about playing a team that is billing this as one of the biggest matches in its history. “That can make you more dangerous or you play with greater tension” he said. On the possible atmosphere in the stadium, he added that “the more noise during the game the better. I don’t know if we will feel like the home side or not. I know that River Plate have brought lots of fans. …”
River boss Marcelo Gallardo described the game as “one of the most important in our history, because of who we are playing against.” But he is also being realistic about his team’s expectations, saying that “it would have to be a perfect game for us to have any chance. But although they have the best players, we have the heart.”
After coming into the Club World Cup on the back of three draws, two in La Liga and one in the Champions League, Barça faced Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande in the semi-final. And although took a little time to get into their stride, they eventually sailed to a comfortable 3-0 win thanks to a hat-trick from Luis Suárez.
Winning the Libertadores Cup earlier this year was a proud moment for River Plate, but their domestic form afterwards was less inspiring. They eventually finished ninth in the Argentinian league, 15 points behind champions Boca Juniors. River faced Sanfrecce Hiroshima of Japan in Wednesday’s Club World Cup semi-final, winning 1-0 thanks to a Lucas Alario goal after 72 minutes.[[DES_1]]
FC Barcelona are participating in the Club World Cup for the fifth time, and the fourth since the new format was introduced. After losing to Sao Paolo (Brazil) in the old Intercontinental Cup in 1992 and to Internacional (Brazil) in 2006, Pep Guardiola led the team to its first title against Estudiantes (Argentina) in 2009 and then again to a 4-0 defeat of Santos(Brazil) in 2011.
River are playing in the competition for the first time, although they twice appeared in the older version. In 1986 they won the title by beating Steaua Bucharest 1-0, but ten years later in 1996 lost to Juventus by the same score.
This is the first ever official meeting between the teams, but they have met before in friendlies, albeit not for 45 years. The Argentinians won both times they met in Buenos Aires (1928 and 1964), while in two preseason tournaments played in Spain (Cadiz, 1961 and Malaga, 1969) it was the Catalans that had the upper hand. Curiously, River did play at the Camp Nou in the Gamper Trophy of 1980, but the way the draw worked out, they never faced Barça.
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