Estudiantes looks to halt historic Barcelona

Estudiantes looks to halt historic Barcelona

Published Dec. 18, 2009 6:00 p.m. ET

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 also."

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 control things."

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 legs.

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 now."

Also Saturday, Atlante plays Steelers for third-place.