The Club World Cup will come to an intriguing climax on Sunday in Yokohama, as European kings Barcelona taken on their South American equivalents, River Plate.
The Blaugrana secured their place in the showpiece final after beating Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 on Thursday, with Luis Suarez notching a tremendous hat-trick. River found things a lot more difficult in their semi-final against Hiroshima Sanfrecce but edged through by a 1-0 scoreline.
It’s the final supporters wanted to see, as these two are the strongest teams in the competition. Here are all the key details ahead of the climax and a look at which team is likely to emerge victorious in this prestigious contest.
Date: Sunday, Dec. 20
Time: 10:30 a.m. (GMT), 5:30 a.m. (ET), 7:30 p.m. (Local)
Venue: International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama
Barcelona Big Favourites to Clinch Glory
Even with Lionel Messi and Neymar out of the team against Guangzhou on Thursday, Barcelona were irresistible, as Suarez single-handedly led the charge for the Blaugrana.
The Uruguayan was rampant at the point of the attack, closing defenders down, making clever movements and, when his chances surfaced, getting himself on the scoresheet, too. It was a wonderful display—his hat-trick was well deserved—and for River, it's an indication of the kind of quality they will be coming up against in the final.
As we can see here courtesy of Squawka Football, Suarez is in a rich vein of goalscoring form at the moment:
Messi missed the semi with renal colic, per the Barcelona website, and Neymar was on the bench, but both could yet feature in the final this weekend. Nevertheless, Suarez was quick to dispel any suggestions that River will be a simple game for the Blaugrana.
“There will be rivalry with River in the final,” said the 28-year-old after his treble, per Alfredo Matilla of AS. “They are an opponent who have won the Copa Libertadores and they are a strong side. They are one of the biggest clubs in South America. It will be a nice final and spectacular to watch and hopefully we can bring the Club World Cup home.”
Indeed, winning the Copa Libertadores is not easy, and this River team clearly have plenty about them. It wasn’t on show in earnest on Wednesday, as they toiled for long spells against the Japanese champions. But Lucas Alario was on hand to head home the winning goal 18 minutes from time, and they will be buoyed by their win heading into Sunday's clash.
As we can see here courtesy of Coral, they’ll be backed by some raucous travelling supporters, too:
However, Barcelona will be a different challenge to Hiroshima. The South American champions will not have as much of the ball as they are accustomed to, meaning they’ll have to play on the break well if they’re to have any chance of securing a final triumph. But keeping Barcelona out will be extremely difficult.
Indeed, if Messi and Neymar both return alongside the in-form Suarez, manager Luis Enrique will have the tools at hand to break down a packed defence; Andres Iniesta seemed to have his passing radar spot-on against Guangzhou, too. Put simply, if River are going to win this one, Barca will have to fall well short of their usual standards.
As noted by Spanish football expert Sergi Dominguez, even without Messi and Neymar, the Barcelona machine seems to be functioning wonderfully:
River have plenty of flair players and should have space to exploit should they use the ball well. In Alario, they also possess a forward who has a habit of stepping up on the big occasion, and he’ll have to be ruthless should any half-chances come his way on Sunday.
Nevertheless, Barca will be too strong. Expect Enrique’s side to run into some resistance early on from a determined River team, but for their quality to inevitably tell. The European champions will add the world crown to their rapidly expanding list of major honours and will do so with a swagger.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 River Plate