Messi returns to lead Barcelona over Atlante
Lionel Messi scored a goal on his return from injury Wednesday,
coming off the bench to inspire Barcelona to produce a sublime
performance as it beat Mexican club Atlante 3-1 and earned a spot
in the Club World Cup final.
Messi showed no adverse effects from an ankle injury as he
received a pass from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 54th minute and then
rounded goalkeeper Federico Vilar to give Barcelona the lead with
his first touch after replacing Yaya Toure in the 53rd minute.
“We know that Barcelona without Messi is still the best in
the world,” Atlante coach Jose Cruz said. “But with Messi on the
field, they’re from another galaxy.”
Pedro Rodriguez sealed the victory in the 67th, becoming the
first player to score in six different competitions in one year.
Atlante took advantage of the European champions sluggish
start to take the lead in the fifth through Guillermo Rojas. But
Sergio Busquets equalized in the 35th.
Barcelona will now face South American champion Estudiantes
of Argentina in Saturday’s final as it goes for an unprecedented
sixth trophy in a calendar year.
“We are Barcelona and some people take for granted that we
are going to win and it’s very hard,” said coach Pep Guardiola, who
is hoping to guide Barcelona to its first win in its third
appearance in the final. “It wasn’t a marvelous game but it wasn’t
Barcelona has already won the Champions League, Spanish
league, Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercup and European Supercup
trophies in 2009. Pedro, who has been a regular in Pep Guardiola’s
squad since August, has scored in each of those competitions.
Guardiola said the team was assessing the fitness of Andres
Iniesta, who left the game clutching his left leg. Iniesta spent
most of the offseason recovering from a muscle tear in his other
“We want to see if it’s a bruise, tiredness or an injury,”
Guardiola said. “We need to do a test and then we’ll know.”
Atlante took the lead after just five minutes when Rojas took
advantage of a defensive lapse to flick the ball over goalkeeper
Victor Valdes and then score from an acute angle.
Ibrahimovic went close several times from distance before
Busquets equalized in the 35th, the midfielder volleying Yaya
Toure’s flicked header under Vilar.
Fans chanted Messi’s name when the Argentina forward appeared
on the touchline to replace Toure and he immediately delivered for
the 40,952 fans at Zayed Sports City stadium after a week out.
“He wants to decide games,” Guardiola said. “He goes for
Pedro wrapped up the win after Iniesta drew two defenders and
then passed to the unmarked winger, who then fired a shot past
Vilar from inside the area.
Atlante missed several chances to get back into the game,
including in the 73rd when Gabriel Pereyra miss-hit a clear chance
in front of goal.
“It was a very tough game,” Vilar said.
Atlante will play Asian champion Pohang Steelers in the
third-place playoff on Saturday.
Earlier, Auckland City finished fifth after beating Mazembe