Barcelona ease into the Club World Cup final
Luis Enrique’s side will face River Plate after Guangzhou Evergrande semi-final win
Barcelona celebrate Luis Suarez’s opener in their 3-0 Club World Cup semi-final win over Guangzhou Evergrande. Photograph: Getty
Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick as Barcelona beat Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 to book a FIFA Club World Cup final date with River Plate on Sunday.
But Suarez more than compensated for the absence of his fellow frontmen, breaking the deadlock shortly before half-time and doubling the lead early in the second half. The Uruguayan then slammed home a penalty as Barca made their superiority over the Chinese outfit tell.
News broke two hours before kick-off that Messi was suffering from renal colic and and had to miss out, while Neymar was named on the bench after recovering from a groin injury.
The Argentinian’s absence meant Sergi Roberto was employed on the right of attack — a position in which he had excelled in in the 4-0 Primera Division thrashing of Real Madrid on November 21.
Munir El Haddadi stepping in for Neymar was the only difference from the line-up that trounced Rafael Benitez’s side at the Bernabeu, but in Yokohama Barcelona really struggled to find their rhythm, despite dominating possession.
Without two of their three star forwards, Luis Enrique’s side lacked penetration in the final third and struggled to break down Scolari’s side, who headed into the encounter unbeaten in their last 28 games.
Barca also left holes in midfield and Javier Mascherano had to come to their rescue twice in the first half to put out fires created by his team-mates.
Despite their shaky start, though, Barcelona created the first two real chances - both combinations between Andres Iniesta and Munir.
First the 20-year-old raced onto a through ball by the Spain midfielder only for Guangzhou goalkeeper Li Shuai to come out to smother. Then Iniesta got down the left wing to float a ball towards Munir, who sent a header looping just wide of the far post.
Guangzhou suffered a big setback on 34 minutes when captain Zou Zheng was forced off the pitch with a suspected broken leg following an innocuous-looking challenge with Dani Alves.
Barely five minutes after Zheng was taken off, Barcelona broke the deadlock, thanks to the spontaneity of Ivan Rakitic and the predatory instincts of Suarez.
With few options open outside the area, the Croatian let fly and Li spilled a tame shot, and Suarez pounced to rifle into the roof of the net. The goal was reminiscent of the Uruguayan’s decisive strike against Juventus in the Champions League final, turning in a rebounded shot from Messi on that occasion.
But Guangzhou almost responded immediately, Elkeson meeting a free-kick and forcing Claudio Bravo to dive low to his right to tip the ball away.
Barcelona looked far more comfortable after the break, with the pressure off, and set about putting the game to bed.
They doubled the lead thanks to another clever ball from Iniesta, who received a pass from Suarez then chipped it back up towards the Uruguayan, who brought it down on his chest before volleying into the far corner.
And the 29-year-old former Liverpool striker completed his treble shortly afterwards, sending Li the wrong way from the spot after Munir had been fouled.