YOKOHAMA, JAPAN — Barcelona didn't really turn up until the second half of their Club World Cup semi-final against Guangzhou Evergrande, bar Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta.
Those two players carried the banner for Luis Enrique's side on Thursday night at the Nissan Stadium. Suarez killed Luiz Felipe Scolari's side with a hat-trick, and Iniesta pulled the strings, created chances and helped Barcelona dominate in attacking areas.
Suarez was particularly lethal, taking three shots and scoring three goals, while of Barcelona's attackers and midfielders, only Iniesta managed to work openings with any degree of consistency.
It was not a surprise that Barcelona were below par. After all, on top of taking an 11-hour flight to Japan, they were also without their best two players.
Ballon d'Or nominated forwards Lionel Messi and Neymar were ill and injured, respectively, not fit to start or feature in the game, and it left Suarez as the only member of the striking trident in the side.
After the game, he dedicated his goals to his team-mates, saying that the hat-trick was for everyone. Per Sport, he said:
This was for all the group, for Leo, Neymar and everyone who didn’t play. All our players are important but it was vital that I concentrated so I could win us the game. We know that Messi and Neymar are vital for this team and now all we can do is hope that they recover as soon as possible. We really wanted to play the final and we have got there. We know that South American teams are always strong and tough, and River are no exception. They are one of the biggest clubs in Latin America and they won the Copa Libertadores for a reason.
If Barcelona get either of both of the men who play alongside Suarez back, they will instantly be a more formidable prospect.
The Uruguayan striker himself is a star teams fear, with 15 goals in his last 10 games demonstrating his current run of sublime form.
Enrique sang Suarez's praises after the game, hailing the striker as an "assassin" who can finish moves that don't seem like they should lead to goals.
"Suarez is a deadly assassin, capable of scoring any chance he gets in the area, while he also presses and motives the rest of the team. He’s indispensable," said the Barcelona coach, per Sport.
In the same press conference, he also hailed the good work of Iniesta, adding: "Iniesta dominated the play and can dribble better than anyone."
It was no coincidence that he should highlight the performance of these two players, given they were head and shoulders above the rest of Barcelona's team.
They combined for the second goal, with Iniesta playing a perfect through ball for Suarez, who controlled and then volleyed home while on the run, beautifully striking it past Shuai Li, to essentially seal the game.
Either side of that goal Suarez converted, the first an instinctive finish from close range after Ivan Rakitic's shot was blocked, his third fired home from the penalty spot.
Perhaps Suarez will be able to see off River Plate when the teams meet on Sunday in Yokohama; perhaps he won't.
If Iniesta is playing as well as he did against Guangzhou, it's not an unlikely prospect. But several factors must be taken into account.
One is how seriously River Plate and their supporters take this tournament.
Over 16,000 fans traveled from Argentina, filling the streets of Osaka for their semi-final win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima and now making their way to Tokyo and Yokohama.
They held a "banderazo" in Osaka and will do the same again on Saturday, a kind of rally where the fans gather in one place and create a huge atmosphere.
The players are fully aware of the fans' desire to win and have their own, too, with Rodrigo Mora and Matias Kranevitter canceling and delaying moves away, respectively, just to play in this tournament.
They weren't impressive against Hiroshima, but manager Marcelo Gallardo, an excellent motivator, should have them fired up to take on Barcelona on Sunday.
The atmosphere will feel like a home game at the Estadio Monumental, and the pressure on Barcelona will be great.
Technically, the Catalans are far superior, but likely the appetite and desire of the Argentines will be greater, giving them a huge chance to overturn the apple cart.
That is why Barcelona will need the whole team to be switched on and alert, like Claudio Bravo was just before half-time, when he denied Elkeson, whose header was destined for the bottom corner of his net, while they only had a one-goal lead.
Suarez and Iniesta are wonderful players, capable of sentencing any game. But that doesn't always come to pass. And if everybody is not at their best, there is a chance River Plate could sting them.