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River Plate lived up to expectations and booked their ticket for Sunday’s Club World Cup Final with a 1-0 defeat of Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday. Now it’s FC Barcelona's turn to do likewise as they face Guangzhou Evergrande of China at the 72,327 capacity International Stadium Yokohama on Thursday 17 December at 11.30am CET. The Catalans are looking to win the coveted trophy for a record third time since the new format was introduced.
FC Barcelona’s 23-man squad includes the complete first team apart from Rafinha, plus B team players Samper and Gumbau. Striker Neymar is carrying a groin injury but has also travelled to Japan, as has his injured compatriot Douglas. According to competition rules, all 23 of those players are eligible to play, so there will be no squad announcement on the day of the match.
Leo Messi will not be playing after waking up on Thursday morning with renal colic, a type of abdominal pain commonly caused by kidney stones. His future availability will depend on the outcome of further medical tests.
The Guangzhou Evergrande squad includes six Brazilians, including former Real Madrid, Manchester City and AC Milan striker Robinho, while Alan Carvalho (Red Bull Salzburg) and Paulinho (Tottenham) also have European experience. All of the other players are Chinese, with the sole exception of South Korean centre-back Kim Young-gwon.
Although his team are clear favourites, Barça boss Luis Enrique is approaching the game with caution. “We will have to be very careful with their captain [Zheng Zhi], who is an important piece in the team” he said in his pre-match press conference. “He is capable of starting attacks along with the centre backs, directing the midfield and getting into the box … If we look at the semi-finals in the Club World Cup, they have always been tough and we will have to be completely focused to get through. The team are in good shape and with real ambition to do well in Japan.”
Guangzhou Evergrande have one of the most experienced coaches in the world controlling things from the side-lines, Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, who said on Wednesday that “Barça are one of the best teams in the world, but we know our own qualities. We have the dedication, the intelligence and we will put in a good performance … I have respect for Barça but I have confidence in us.”
Barça are going into the competition on the back of three draws. The points dropped away to Valencia and at home to Deportivo have allowed Atlético Madrid to catch up with them in La Liga, while the 1-1 draw at Bayer Leverkusen was less painful, as the defending European champions had already ensured passage into the last sixteen of the Champions League as group winners.
Guangzhou Evergrande have already clinched their fifth consecutive Chinese Super League and qualified for the Club World Cup after winning their second Asian Champions League title by beating Al-Ahli of Dubai in November. The Southern China Tigers then sprung a surprise by defeating Club América 2-1 in the quarter finals. The Mexicans led 1-0 until the 80th minute when Zheng Long equalised and then Paulinho grabbed a dramatic winner in the third minute of injury time.
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.
Barça have never played a Chinese club in an official match, but have played four preseason friendlies against teams from the country, winning all of them and scoring nineteen goals to no reply in the process. And in April 2005 the Catalans routed the Chinese national team 6-0 in an exhibition match at the Camp Nou.
Guangzhou Evergrande are playing in the Club World Cup for the second time. Two years ago, when they were the first Chinese club to play at the event, they also reached the semi-finals by beating Al-Ahly (Egypt) 2-0 in the quarter final, but once there they were soundly defeated 3-0 by eventual champions Bayern Munich.
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