Barcelona clinched their fifth trophy of 2015 in Yokohama, Japan, on Sunday, beating South American champions River Plate 3-0 in the final of the Club World Cup.
A goal from Lionel Messi put the Blaugrana ahead at the break despite some initially stubborn defensive work from Los Millonarios. Luis Suarez made it two just after half-time, then ensured the trophy was heading back to Catalonia midway through the second period with his second goal of the day.
This silverware, alongside the Champions League, Primera Division, Copa del Rey and the UEFA Super Cup, caps off what has been an outstanding year for the Catalan giants.
Barcelona were the big favourites to triumph in the final, and their chances were given an even bigger boost when Messi and Neymar, who both missed the semi-final, were named in the starting lineup.
However, River did cope well in the opening stages. As noted by Argentinian football expert Sam Kelly, it seemed as though they’d done their homework on the European champions ahead of this one, preventing an early onslaught:
Sam Kelly @HEGS_com
River have pressed relatively high so far, aware that Barça don't always start bang on rhythm. I reckon switch to counter comes about now.2015-12-20 10:49:36
The Copa Libertadores champions retreated into a shape after an initial flurry, allowing Barcelona plenty of the ball but cutting off space inside their own final third.
River defended well for long periods, forcing Barcelona into a few pot shots and breaking with gumption themselves on occasion. However, as is so often the case with the Spanish champions, a lot of strong work at the back can be undone in one moment, and it was Messi on hand to put his team ahead after 36 minutes.
As we can see here, the 28-year-old was fastest to react to a Neymar knockdown, finishing smartly with his right foot:
FCB Indonesia @FCB_Indonesia
Gif: Goal Messi (0-1) #fcblive https://t.co/h95QBJev9X2015-12-20 11:10:02
The opener made things difficult for River, who were noticeably dejected after its concession. But they were able to scamper through to half-time without conceding any more major chances to the Europeans.
However, Barcelona emerged for the second period emboldened, with Suarez, who scored a hat-trick against Guangzhou Evergrande in the semi-final, once again a ferocious bundle of energy at the forefront of the attack.
The Uruguayan capitalised on some slack defending from River to double his team’s advantage in the 49th minute. As we can see here, it was a scruffy finish from Suarez but a supreme pass from Sergio Busquets to release him:
❤Sangi ❤ @i_am_sangi
What a ball from Busquets...goall suarez... https://t.co/8p7mxB8Zn32015-12-20 11:43:21
With the game slipping from them, you did begin to feel sorry for the River defenders for having to cope with a Blaugrana team in irresistible form. The Argentinians became frustrated in the aftermath of the second goal and began committing rash fouls in an attempt to sap some life out of Barca’s attacking forays. But the Liga giants kept on piling forward.
As we can see, courtesy of Barcelona fan Sergi Dominguez, with Messi and Suarez on the scoresheet already, Neymar was beginning to enjoy himself too:
Sergi Domínguez @FutbolSergi
#Reymar https://t.co/dK8zr2pxFM2015-12-20 11:51:54
More goals were inevitable, and with Neymar’s influence growing in the game, it was little surprise to see him involved as Barca surged into a three-goal lead with 22 minutes remaining. The Brazilian’s perfect cross gave Suarez a simple header, capping off another silky move and making absolutely sure the trophy was theirs.
For Suarez, it was a landmark goal in this particular competition, as OptaJavier noted:
5 - Luis Suárez only player with five goals in the same World Cup of Clubs. Instinct.2015-12-20 12:06:37
Barcelona took their foot off the gas late on, and River did create some chances, with Gonzalo Martinez striking the post. But the European champions knew the game was up at this juncture, and as the final whistle blew, they barely looked as though they'd broken sweat.
It’s been a remarkable year for Barcelona. When you consider they began 2015 with an awful showing against Real Sociedad, losing 1-0 at Anoeta, few would have expected such a drastic turnaround in fortunes. Manager Luis Enrique deserves immense credit for the manner in which he’s got this team playing not only thrilling football but winning football too.
The Messi, Suarez and Neymar axis has been central to Barca's success, and once again, the trio were at the heart of everything good which Barcelona did. If they can continue to operate with such incision, decisiveness and enjoyment in 2016, we could well be talking about a similar haul of trophies for Barca in 12 months' time.
Barcelona's goalscoring hero Luis Suarez insisted that it's important Barcelona do not let their standards slip after this latest trophy win, per Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC:
Always after competition like this, teams can have a dip. Our next challenge now is not to drop off, to keep challenging for trophies. We must stay on the same path, we are the best team in the world.
We are very happy to win the trophy, which was why we came here. I am not too worried who scores the goals.
River manager Marcelo Gallardo conceded that the best team won on the day, per football journalist Juan Arango:
Juan G. Arango @JuanG_Arango
Gallardo: "Barça are a team that know how to find the spaces and can break you down at any moment."2015-12-20 13:19:48
Juan G. Arango @JuanG_Arango
Gallardo: " After the second goal, we lost our order. That's when the game was dominated by them."2015-12-20 13:20:29