Barcelona goes for history, starting with Atlante
Barcelona's bid to close a historic season with a sixth major
trophy begins Wednesday when the European champions play Mexican
club Atlante in the Club World Cup semifinals.
Barcelona is favorite to lift the former Intercontinental Cup after winning all five trophies available since May - the Champions League, the Spanish league, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Supercup and the European Supercup.
Pep Guardiola's team will go down in history if it can complete a clean sweep of titles.
"There's no need to obsess over it, but to be remembered as great you have to win the Club World Cup," sport director Txiki Begiristain said. "The truth is that we would like it very much because it's the only title that Barcelona is missing."
In its two previous appearances at the competition, Barcelona lost 2-1 to Sao Paulo in 1992 and 1-0 to Internacional - also of Brazil - in the final three years ago.
Coach Pep Guardiola was a member of that first losing team, and is keen to avoid the team's previous mistakes.
Barcelona, then led by Ronaldinho and coming off a league and Champions League double, went on a sharp decline from the final in Yokohama, Japan, that left the team without a trophy until Guardiola's arrival at the start of last season. Guardiola became the first coach to lead a Spanish club - and only fifth in Europe - to three trophies in one season.
"This year we've won every title that we've played for," midfielder Andres Iniesta said. "All that's left (is this)."
Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi is available, but a start does not look promising due to an ankle injury. The Argentina forward, who has scored 12 goals, should be on the team list for the match at the Zayed Sports City stadium despite missing Saturday's 1-0 win over Espanyol.
Although it's already likely, a sixth trophy would cement Messi's standing as the world's best player and likely herald a FIFA Player of the Year award.
"It's the last championship of an historic 2009 and we want to end it well," said Messi, who is the team's joint leading scorer with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Before the Catalans can look ahead to Saturday's final against either South Korean club Pohang Steelers or Estudiantes of Argentina - who play Tuesday - it will have to overcome some fatigue to first get past Atlante.
Former Real Madrid player Santiago Solari, now at Atlante, is fully aware of Barcelona's strengths.
"They're not only the best in the world the last year and a half for their play and results, but this Barcelona is also one of the best teams in the history of football," Solari said. "You have to take your sombrero off to them."
Atlante beat New Zealand's Auckland City 3-0 to reach the last four, but Solari and his teammates believe all of the pressure is on Barcelona.
"All of the responsibility falls on Barcelona. This we know," the Argentine midfielder said. "We'll go out and try to play our football."
Atlante could look to exploit an "exhausted" Barcelona, as Guardiola put it, which has faced a crowded December schedule due to the trip to Abu Dhabi.