YOKOHAMA: Lionel Messi marked his return from illness with a brilliant goal as Barcelona beat Argentina’s River Plate 3-0 to capture a record third Club World Cup yesterday.
The Spanish giants welcomed back Messi after a bout of kidney stones and the mercurial Argentine scored with a clinical finish on 36 minutes, before a lethal Luis Suarez double destroyed River’s hopes in a spiky Yokohama final. “We came here to win the title and it was important to get the job done,” said the prolific Suarez, who picked up the player of the tournament and golden boot award after finishing with five goals.
“Leo’s goal opened up the game and in the second half we controlled things and had more chances,” added the Uruguayan, who has struck 24 goals in 24 games this season, including 17 in his last 11.
Neymar, himself returning to the side after a groin strain, was instrumental in Barcelona’s opener, climbing to knock down a Dani Alves cross for Messi to steer past River goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero with a deft flick of his left boot. Suarez, who scored a hat-trick in Barca’s 3-0 semifinal win over Guangzhou Evergrande, scored a second with a fierce low drive four minutes into the second half.
The former Liverpool striker grabbed his second of the night when he dispatched a thumping header past Barovero after a pinpoint cross from Neymar. “Our aim is to win titles but what is also important is the style we do it in,” said Barca coach Luis Enrique. “The process behind it is important to me. “We try to keep improving, not just on the pitch but as people,” he added. “That is also something that’s expected of players at Barcelona. “Two days ago, Messi was a doubt for the final but he demanded to play. Neymar was also desperate to play. That kind of determination rubs off on all the players.” River Plate’s starting eleven cost a total of some six million dollars while Barcelona paid $85 million for Suarez alone, and the gulf in class showed.
The Catalans, who had already bagged the European Champions League, La Liga, the Copa del Rey and European Super Cup this year, tore River to shreds in the second half. Neymar also came close to scoring with a curling effort that shaved the bar. Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo was a spectator for much of the game on a cold night but made an acrobatic save from River substitute Gonzalo Martinez seven minutes from time to deny the South Americans a consolation goal.
Messi, who forced a smart save from Barovero in the early skirmishes and could himself have finished with a hat-trick, became the first player to score in three finals after leading Barca to victory in 2009 and 2011. River manager Marcelo Gallardo apologised to the estimated 15,000 fans who made the long journey from Buenos Aires to Japan. “We had a plan but when Messi scored, it went out of the window,” he said. “We let the fans down but we can be proud that we did our best. Barcelona were simply too good.” — AFP