Barcelona will have to wait to learn if Lionel Messi and Neymar will be available to spearhead their challenge to lift a fifth trophy of 2015 in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup in Yokohama on Sunday. South American champions River Plate stand in Barcelona’s way of crowning a year to remember, but it remains to be seen if two of their star South American forward trio will be able to take part.
Both were missing as Barcelona secured their place in the final with a 3-0 victory over Asian Champions League winners Guangzhou Evergrande on Thursday. Messi was dealing with kidney stones, while Neymar wasn’t yet ready to return from a groin injury. There is, though, hope that both will be able to take the field at the Yokohama International Stadium. Messi has now reportedly passed his kidney stone, with it now just remaining to be seen how his body reacts. Neymar, meanwhile, was on the bench for the semifinal, suggesting he will play at least some part in the final.
Even without the duo, Barcelona retain a potent threat. Guangzhou discovered that to their cost when the third member of the Catalan giants’ record-setting trio, Luis Suárez, fired a hat-trick. Still, the Uruguayan is taking nothing for granted as Barcelona seek to add the Club World Cup to La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League and European Super Cup titles in a dominant 2015.
“We know that South American teams are very strong and very tough, and we’re very much aware that River are one of the biggest teams on the continent,” Suarez said after the semifinal win, according to FIFA.com. “They won the Copa Libertadores after all. We know they’ll be tougher opponents and that we’ll have to be at our very best to win the title we want.”
River Plate qualified for the Club World Cup after beating Mexican side Tigres to win their first Copa Libertadores title in 19 years in July. It gives them the chance to match Barcelona with two world crowns, having taken the honor for the only previous time in 1986, when it was still the Intercontinental Cup, played between the champions of Europe and South America.
The famous Buenos Aires club has been revived spectacularly by former Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marcello Gallardo, who has guided them to continental glory just three years after they were in the Argentinean second tier.
Yet, since lifting the Copa Libertadores, River have struggled for form, seemingly affected by the loss of Argentina international defender Ramiro Funes Mori to Everton and strikers Teófilo Gutiérrez and Fernando Cavenaghi to Sporting Lisbon and Apoel Nicosia, respectively. But there is the additional factor of the importance the Club World Cup carries for South American teams often leading to focus being distracted in the run up to the tournament. And striker Javier Saviola has made it clear just how important Sunday’s final is.
“For us, this is the most important game in our history -- there’s no doubt about that,” he said, reports Spanish daily AS. “It’s a very prestigious tournament and we hope to be up to the level it demands. I can assure you that we haven’t come all this way to Japan for a casual stroll. A lot of things have happened to River in recent years and not all of them good. Now it’s time to give our fans some happiness.
For Saviola, the match will have even greater significance. Indeed it marks the 34-year-old’s career coming almost full circle. At the age of 19 he was signed by Barcelona from River Plate, and after a long career across Europe, he returned to his first club this summer. If he does take the field he is likely to come up against another player who started his career at the Estadio Monumental, Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano.
Kickoff time: 5:30 a.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1