Estudiantes looks to halt historic Barcelona
Argentine club Estudiantes is the last team standing between
Barcelona and a sixth major trophy of 2009.
The Copa Libertadores champions will face their European
counterparts on Saturday in the Club World Cup final at the Zayed
Sports City stadium.
“It’s going to be a matchup between titans,” said Barcelona
coach Pep Guardiola, whose team beat Manchester United, Athletic
Bilbao and Shakhtar Donetsk in cup finals in 2009.
Estudiantes captain Juan Sebastian Veron called it the
biggest match of his career.
“Obviously this is not just like winning any trophy,” Veron
said. “It won’t be just another day. It’ll be the day.”
Barcelona will have Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi available
again after recovering from an ankle injury, but fellow FIFA Player
of the Year finalist Andres Iniesta is out with a leg injury.
“It’s a final so there are no favorites,” said Messi, who
scored the winning goal against Atlante in the semifinals. “(But)
we need to win to close out the year with another title not only
for the historical importance to the club but to world football
Iniesta’s absence is one of the few advantages that
Estudiantes – led by Argentina playmaker Veron – has.
“There are a lot of factors in play. We’ve got a huge
challenge tomorrow and we have to give our maximum,” coach
Alejandro Sabella said. “It doesn’t bother me that they’re
favorites. We have a team with a lot of spirit.”
Estudiantes, which beat Asian champion Pohang Steelers of
South Korea 2-1 in the semifinals, won the competition once in
1968, when it was known as the Intercontinental Cup. It played a
physical game then and Barcelona was ready for a physical game now.
“We have two Argentines in our team and we know how they act
and what they like,” Guardiola said Friday. “They do have other
qualities that are not aggressive. It’s up to the referee to
Veron’s father Juan Ramon was on the team that beat
Manchester United 1-0 in 1968. However, both Veron and Sabella
objected to the “animals” nickname that squad earned for its
physical play, a reputation that has followed the club.
“We always go onto the field with 11 players and we always
aim to leave with 11,” Sabella said.
Barcelona is making its third final appearance after losses
in 1992 and 2006, the last setting off a season and a half to
forget. The Catalan club lost two straight league titles to Madrid,
and Ronaldinho was better remembered for off-field problems than
his dribbles on it.
“We don’t have to make up for anything,” Guardiola said of
the final in Japan, when Barcelona lost to Brazilian club
Internacional 1-0. “Up to now I haven’t told them anything. They
already know the task in front of us. We have a fantastic
opportunity to crown the season.”
Estudiantes can capitalize on one element – Barcelona’s tired
The Spanish club’s condensed December schedule has taken its
toll on the roster of internationals, who showed little flair and
trailed Atlante 1-0 early.
“We have to get over (the fatigue),” said Guardiola, who is
in his second year as coach. “We have holidays coming up. If we
have the desire to do something very important, then we can’t stop
Also Saturday, Atlante plays Steelers for third-place.