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

too bad.”

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