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 leg.
"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 blood."
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 3-2.