Here is Stoppage Time – International Football Blog’s Team of the Year 2010 shortlist
FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN: Secured their 22nd championsip title in the 2009-10 season after seeing off nearest challengers Schalke 04 to the Meisterschale by five points. Also secured the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) by hammering Werder Bremen 4-0 in the final in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, securing the club’s sixth such ‘double’ in the last decade. However their fortune ran out in Madrid where they lost out to Internazionale FC in the final of the UEFA Champions League.
SC INTERNACIONAL: The Porto Alegre based side won their second Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League) title in four years topping a group with Deportivo Quito, CA Cerro and CS Emelec before getting past CA Banfield, previous champions Estudiantes de La Plata and São Paulo in the knockout rounds before beating Chivas Guadalajara 5-3 in the two-legged final. Finished 7th in the Brazilian domestic championship and a losing semi-finalist in the FIFA Club World Cup.
FC INTERNAZIONALE: After seeing many titles winging their way to their bitter enemies AC Milan over the years it was finally time for the Nerazzurri to have some glory of their own. Jose Mourinho led the club to an unprecedented treble with success in Serie A (pipping AS Roma to the title on the final day), Coppa Italia (also beating AS Roma) and UEFA Champions League (beating FC Bayern 2-0) whilst Rafa Benítez has led the club to further glory with wins in the Italian Super Cup (again AS Roma) and FIFA Club World Cup (3-0 v TP Mazembe).
SPAIN: The Spanish national team is riding on the crest of a wave after winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Following a less than impressive start against Switzerland, against whom La Selección lost 1-0, the Spaniards went on to defeat Honduras and Chile in the group stage before getting past Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and the Netherlands to lift football’s biggest prize for the very first time. This meant that Spain are the third team after West Germany and France to hold the European and world titles at the same time. Spain also top the FIFA World Rankings at the end of the year.
TP MAZEMBE: The Congolese side were desperately unlucky not to win their domestic title, losing the championship to rivals AS Vita Club only on the back of goal difference. But it’s for the club’s international exploits that they reach our shortlist; a second consecutive CAF African Champions’ League beating Esperance ST 6-1 on aggregate followed by a maiden appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup final becoming the first non-European/South American team to reach that stage of the competition.
African champions TP Mazembe have made history defeating Copa Libertadores champions SC Internacional by two goals to nil to secure a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup final, the first time a team from outside Europe or South America has achieved such a feat.
Brazilians Internacional, who won this tournament in 2006, had plenty of chances to score in the game but they found Mazembe’s keeper Muteba Kidiaba in inspired form as he made many saves throughout the game. But the team from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who have won back-to-back African Champions Leagues in the last two years, made plenty of chances of their own and it was they who managed to find the net on two occasions in the second half. Milota Kabangu opened the scoring in the 53rd minute, executing a fanstastic shot from outside the Inter penalty box with his right-foot shot curling into the top right corner, leaving Inter keeper Renan flat footed. The game was sealed in the 85th minute when Dioko Kaluyituka ran with the ball from deep inside Inter’s half and drilled a hard and low shot into the bottom corner to send the TP Mazembe fans into ecstasy in the stands whilst those of Internacional were absolutely stunned. TP Mazembe keeper Kidiaba may also win a prize for the best celebration of the tournament after shuffling along the ground on his backside after each goal.
TP Mazembe, having knocked out Mexicans Pachuca in the quarter-finals on Friday as well as Internacional today, will hope that they can go all the way. First they must find out tomorrow who they will face in Sunday’s final as European champions Internazionale FC take on Asian winners Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in the second semi-final.
The quarter-final stages have passed in this year’s FIFA Club World Cup with African champions TP Mazembe and Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma having made it through to the final four of the competition where they will meet South American champions Internacional and European champions Internazionale FC respectively.
TP Mazembe, champions of Africa for the past two seasons, faced up to the North & Central American champions Pachuca in their quarter-final match-up this weekend. Having defeated the Mexicans by a goal to nil, Mbenza Bedi scoring the only goal in the 21st minute, the Congolese side have already bettered their performance in last year’s tournament. Last time out Mazembe were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Pohang Steelers so this year represents further progress on the international stage although the club were disappointed not to win their domestic championship this year, losing out to AS Vita-Club by virtue of goal difference. Nonetheless for coach Lamine N’Diaye Tuesday’s encounter with this year’s Copa Libertadores champions Internacional of Porto Alegre will be an historic match for the club and they will want to upset the odds by becoming the first club from outside Europe or South America to participate in the final of this tournament.
The same goes for Asian club champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma who defeated United Arab Emirates representatives Al-Wahda by a much more comfortable scoreline of four goals to one. Mauricio Molina, Saša Ognenovski, Choi Sung-Kuk and Cho Dong-Geon scored the goals for the South Korean club who will compete in the semi-finals in their maiden appearance in this tournament. Their opponents on Wednesday are UEFA Champions League winners Internazionale FC who have struggled domestically in recent weeks having taken only five points from their last six Serie A games, their only victory coming against AC Parma a fortnight ago. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma have completed their K-League season, losing in the 2nd round of the Championship play-offs and have only played in one competitive fixture since November 24th. For Seongnam’s coach Shin Tae-Yong Wednesday’s game is a real chance to upset the odds and they will hope that the Italians will have another off-day. Inter coach Rafael Benítez, however, has unfinished business in this tournament having been a runner-up with Liverpool FC in 2005 and success in this year’s competition could be the difference between keeping or losing his job.
For the second year running the FIFA Club World Cup will be held in the United Arab Emirates and it looks like being yet another thrilling competition. Last year saw 2008-09 UEFA Champions League holders FC Barcelona narrowly edge out 2009 Copa Libertadores winners Estudiantes de La Plata with the Catalans needing extra-time to defeat their illustrious Argentinian opponents. This year it is expected that this truly “international” tournament will prove to be so with 2009-10 UEFA Champions League winners FC Internazionale Milano face off against their South American counterparts Internacional of Porto Alegre. But there are five other teams who hope to have their shot of glory and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at all seven contenders.
INTERNAZIONALE FC – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009-10
The José Mourinho era may be over but Internazionale FC still go into this tournament as favourites despite some initial teething problems under new coach Rafael Benítez. Inter haven’t been crowned world champions since 1965 when they defeated Argentinian side Independiente in the old Intercontinental Cup and the Nerazzurri are desperate to add the new trophy to their list of achievements. Internazionale became European champions for the third time in their history having beaten German giants FC Bayern München 2-0 in Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, ironically where their former coach now works. Their current coach Benítez has been in the final of this tournament once before but saw his Liverpool FC side lose to a Brazilian side in the final. Will history repeat itself for the Spaniard? Inter first have to dispose any of Hekari United, Al-Wahda or Seongnam Ilhwa Chuma at the last four stage before they can think of the final.
INTERNACIONAL SC – COPA LIBERTADORES WINNERS 2010
The last South American team to win this trophy, Internacional are hoping to create history by becoming the first team to win the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time since the tournament was re-branded in 2004. Their first triumph in this competition came in 2006 in Tokyo where they defeated an FC Barcelona side who were expected to turn up and win the trophy but Inter had other ideas and Adriano Gabiru’s 82nd minute strike remains the club’s finest moment. Internacional would’ve qualified for this year’s tournament even had they have lost the Copa Libertadores final to Mexican side C.D. Guadalajara but a 5-3 aggregate victory for the Porto Alegre based side means that they travel to the UAE with the champion status they deserve. Internacional will face the winners of TP Mazembe and CF Pachuca in the semi-finals.
CF PACHUCA – CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009-10
The champions of North and Central America are competing in this tournament for the third time which is a competition best along with Egyptians Al Ahly. Pachuca’s two previous appearances saw them exit at the quarter-final stage in 2007 before losing to Gamba Osaka in a 3rd/4th place play-off twelve months later. The Mexicans saw off the challenge from compatriots Cruz Azul in the two-legged CONCACAF Champions League final winning courtesy of the away goals rule. Following a 2-1 away defeat, Pachuca were only seconds away from disappointment as the second leg reached its dying moments. However Édgar Benítez’s last gasp goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time gave Pachuca their fourth continental title and another shot of glory at the world stage. They will face off against African champions TP Mazembe in the quarter-finals.
TP MAZEMBE – CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2010
The Congolese side are back-to-back African champions and undoubtedly the strongest team on the African continental at the moment. Tout Puissant Mazembe, to give their official name, have come back to prominence in the last couple of years and have put four decades without the top African trophy firmly behind them. Following what was an unexpected CAF Champions League win in 2009 TP Mazembe proved their critics wrong by thrashing Tunisian champions Espérance Tunis 6-1 on aggregate and will hope to better their performance in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 where they failed to beat Asian champions Pohang Steelers and OFC Champions Auckland City. Coach Lamine N’Diaye has to negotiate his team’s way through the quarter-finals against CONCACAF champions CF Pachuca before they can meet Internacional SC in the last four stage.
SEONGNAM ILHWA CHUNMA – AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2010
The South Koreans may not have won a domestic trophy in four years but that didn’t prevent them from winning Asian football’s elite club competition this year. Coming from the city of Seongnam, this team qualified for the 2010 AFC Champions League as losing finalists from the 2009 K-League final which they lost to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup having defeated Iranian side Zob Ahan Isfahan in the AFC Champions League winning 3-1 in the National Stadium, Tokyo. Their reward is to play against the winners of the qualifying match between Ocenaia champions Hekari United and UAE League champions Al-Wahda in the quarter-finals. Should they be successful in their opening match a semi-final against European champions Internazionale FC awaits.
PKR HEKARI UNITED – OFC O-LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2009-10
The rise of Papua New Guinea’s biggest club has been something of a fairytale in world football’s smallest confederation. Having only picked up just one point from their opening two group matches in the 2009-10 O-League, Hekari United then won all of their four remaining games against group opponents Lautoka FC, Tafea FC and Marist FC before going on to meet strong favourites Waitakere United in the final. The New Zealanders, twice O-League champions in the previous three years, came unstuck in the first leg in Port Moresby losing 3-0 before going on to gain some pride with a 2-1 second leg win. The 4-2 aggregate victory for Hekari signalled the first time that a club from outside Australia or New Zealand had won Oceania’s top tournament and rewards them with a qualifying match against UAE champions Al-Wahda which they’ll hope to win in order to meet Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.
AL-WAHDA – UNITED ARAB EMIRATES PREMIER LEAGUE WINNERS 2009-10
In order to gain some local interest FIFA has decided to include the national champions of the host nation in the last four tournaments. The middle eastern state of the United Arab Emirates hosts this tournament for a second consecutive year and it is 2009-10 Premier League champions Al-Wahda who will hope to do their country proud. Al-Wahda qualified for the tournament after winning their national championship by seven points from nearest challengers Al Jazira and they will hope to better the performance of last year’s representatives Al-Ahli who lost 2-0 to OFC Champions League winners Auckland City in the play-off round. Should Al-Wahda defeat Hekari United in this year’s play-off they will face off against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in the quarter-finals.
Following a 5-0 victory in the first leg of this year’s final it was no surprise to see defending CAF Champions League holders TP Mazembe lift the trophy for a second consecutive running. Their 1-1 draw away at Tunisian giants Espérance in yesterday’s second leg gave the Congan side their fourth title overall in African football’s showpiece tournament.
Espérance gave their fans something to shout about in the 23rd minute of the second leg when Harrison Afful gave the Tunis based side the lead and reduced the aggregate score to 5-1. TP Mazembe, however, were always comfortable knowing that they had such a substantial lead already to their credit and they restored parity in the 69th minute when Kanda A Mukok tucked home the equalizing score on the night, increasing the overall score to 6-1.
Earlier in the day Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma won the Asian equivalent of this competition and TP Mazembe’s triumph finally confirmed the line-up for this year’s FIFA Club World Cup which takes place in the United Arab Emirates next month. The other teams competing will be Internazionale FC (Europe), Internacional (South America), Pachuca (North America), Hekari United (Oceania) and Al-Wahda (United Arab Emirates champions). TP Mazembe will play Mexican side Pachuca in the quarter-final stage on December 10th.
WATCH VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
Defending African champions TP Mazembe have already as good as won the CAF Champions League for a second successive year, and fourth title overall, following their 5-0 demolition of Tunisian champions Espérance.
In an amazing first leg to this year’s CAF Champions League final the Congolese side took to the field at their home Stade de la Kenya in the town of Lubumbashi and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Although it has to be said that the first goal from Ndandu Kasongo had a touch of controversy about it as it was debateable whether the ball had crossed the line from his 18th minute header but the referee gave the goal and TP Mazembe didn’t look back. The Tunisians’ cause wasn’t helped when Mohamed Ben Masour was sent off just six minutes later for an off-the-ball incident. Following all of the incidents that had befallen them Espérance very nearly made it in at the break with a mere one goal deficit but a penalty given in first half stoppage time to the home side was tucked away by Dioko Kaluyituka and the game was fast running away from the Tunis side. The second half saw an inevitable avalanche of chances from TP Mazembe whose superior numbers on the field was turned into a vastly superior number of goals as Given Singuluma scored twice just before the hour mark and Kasongo scored his second of the game with sixteen minutes to go.
As it happens the only other time that a team took a five goal advantage into the second leg of the final happened in 1968 after Togo’s Étoile Filante de Lomé lost to a Congolese team called TP Englebert, now known to all as TP Mazembe, in the second win of a back-to-back success. It looks like history is going to repeat itself following the second leg of the 2010 CAF Champions League final to be played in Tunis on November 13th.
WATCH TP MAZEMBE v ESPERANCE HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
With the identity of all four semi-finalists known the final matchday in the CAF Champions League group stages was a little anti-climatic but there were still points to play for as teams jostled either for the leadership of the group or to avoid the wooden spoon. The situation was different in the CAF Confederation Cup, however, as all teams were involved in their fourth matches of the group stage this weekend with some very interesting results. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews this weekend’s action.
Group A was topped by Tunisians Espérance by two points from defending African champions TP Mazembe who also qualify from the group. Espérance had Oussama Darragi to thank for claiming all three points in their away match at Dynamos FC of Zimbabwe, his 23rd minute goal giving Espérance all three points and the group leadership. TP Mazembe could only muster a goalless draw in their final match away to Algerians ES Sétif whose consolation was that they finished third and, thus, avoided the group’s wooden spoon. Espérance claimed 13 points from six games with TP Mazembe two points further behind.
Group B winners JS Kabylie of Algeria had already been assured of the group leadership after Matchday 5 as they enjoyed a five point gap between themselves and second place Al Ahly. The Algerian champions were away to Nigerians Heartland FC in their final game and they went away with a 1-1 draw which preserved their unbeaten record at this stage of the competition. Al Ahly, on the other hand, were on the receiving end of a 4-2 defeat from compatriots Ismaily FC but still finished two points further ahead in the standings. The semi-final draw sees title holders TP Mazembe play JS Kabylie and record champions Al Ahly face off against Espérance and both legs will be played on the weekends of October 1-3 and October 15-17, offical times still be finalized.
In the CAF Confederation Cup the only suspense in Group A is which one from Ittihad and Al Hilal will finish top of the group. Djoliba FC, who are in third place are five points behind both teams with two games to play and have little chance of catching either or both teams up in the standings. Djoliba FC did, at least, put the celebrations of their Matchday 4 opponents Al Hilal on hold with a 2-0 win on Sunday. Ittihad’s 3-1 win over Niger’s ASFAN on Saturday means that they along with Ittihad are on equal points with each team holding a record of 3-0-1 in the group phase so far. In Group B FUS Rabat and CS Sfaxien lead the way following their Matchday 4 wins over Haras El Hadood and Zanaco FC respectively. FUS Rabat top the standings with nine points from four games after they came from behind in their away clash to Egyptians Haras by two goals to one. CS Sfaxien, two time winners of this competition, remain on course to reach the last four following their 2-1 win at home to third place Zanaco, the Zambian team who lie in third place just three points further back.
The second round of the CAF Champions League has been completed this weekend and the eight teams who have qualified from this section look forward to the oncoming group stage. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reports on the winners and losers from the second round of Africa’s elite club competition and highlights the latest developments in the Confederation Cup, Africa’s equivalent of the UEFA Europa League or Copa Sudamericana.
On Friday night three teams were victorious in their Round of 16 matches. Zimbabweans Dynamos F.C. had a comfortable passage following their first leg 4-1 victory against Botswana’s Gaborone United by securing a goalless draw in the return fixture to become the first team through to the last eight. Algerian champions ES Sétif were made to work for their place having scraped through with a 3-2 aggregate win over Zambians Zanaco F.C. Another North African team, Espérance of Tunisia, made it through after they easily negotiated their way past Sudanese Al-Merreikh with a 4-0 aggregate win. On Sunday defending champions TP Mazembe secured their passage to the group stage with a 3-0 second leg win over Malians Djoliba, going through 4-0 overall. Algerians JS Kabylie were grateful to go through 3-2 on aggregate against Angolans Atlético Petróleos while Heartlands FC from Nigeria beat South African champions SuperSport United 4-2 on aggregate. The two Egyptian teams in the tournament, Al Ahly and Ismaily, clinched the remaining two berths in the last eight with aggregate victories over Ittihad and Al-Hilal Omdurman respectively. The eight winners will be drawn into two groups of four teams in the lucrative group stage whilst the eight losing teams from this round will be rewarded with the consolation prize of a place in the CAF Confederation Cup.
The sixteen teams remaining in the CAF Confederation Cup will play a further knockout round before they indulge in a group stage format similar to that in the main competition. Defending champions Stade Malien were knocked out of this year’s tournament having succumbed to a 2-0 aggregate defeat by Moroccans FUS Rabat. The team from the Moroccan capital took a two goal first leg lead into the return fixture and were able to hold on comfortably in order to progress to the next stage. Egyptians Haras El Hodood were the big winners in the second round having defeated Tanzanians Simba F.C. by six goals to three. Two-time former champions CS Sfaxien squeezed through past Egyptians Petrojet F.C. by a 2-1 scoreline whilst Algerian outfit CR Belouizdad’s hopes of claiming a first continental trophy were increased after they overturned a 1-0 first leg defeat with a 2-0 win in the second leg against Sudanese Amal Atbara. In the remaining games ASFAN F.C. (Niger), Primeiro de Agosto (Angola) and CAPS United (Zimbabwe) ensured aggregate wins against DC Motema Pembe (DR Congo), Cotonsport (Cameroun) and Warri Wolves (Nigeria) respectively while Nigerians Enyimba clawed back a 3-0 first leg deficit against AS Vita Club (DR Congo) to force extra-time and a penalty shoot-out in which they prevailed 9-8 from spot kicks.
It was a case of third time lucky for FC Barcelona as they sealed their maiden triumph in the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Their opponents, Copa Libertadores champions Estudiantes de La Plata, were so close to winning the trophy themselves after leading the contest for so long. However the Catalans rounded off the final leg of an unprecedented “grand slam” of trophies by scoring late in reglaur time and rounding off the game in extra-time.
The first half of the game started with no real flow due to the number of fouls being committed on both sides. The first thirty minutes saw few real chances and it resembled the proverbial game of chess. However the deadlock was broken on 37 minutes as Mauro Boselli headed in a Juan Manual Diaz cross from the left to give “los Pincharatas” a 1-0 lead and they saw this lead through to half-time.
In the second half Estudiantes seemed determined to hold on to their lead allowing the European champions as much time and possession as they wished, with the Argentines hoping to break on the counter attack. For so long the rugged Estudiantes defence kept wave after wave of “Barça” attacks out of reach and their defensive tactics appeared to be paying off. However the breakthrough for Barcelona came very late. In the 88th minute Pedro managed to loop a header over goalkeeper Albil into the top right hand corner and the hoardes of Barcelona fans in the stadium were ecstatic.
Barcelona started the extra-time period in much the same fashion as they’d ended the regulation period. Ibrahimovic and Toure had shots blocked in the first period of fifteen minutes. It wasn’t until five minutes into the second half of extra-time until Lionel Messi was able to pop up with the game’s decisive moment. Dani Alves’ right sided cross was chested home by the Argentine superstar from close range and the Catalans could sense that their day had finally come after two previous disappointments in Club World Cup finals.
The excitement wasn’t quite over as an urgent Estudiantes side finally found some forward momentum to try and take the game into penalties. A free kick was won in the last minute of extra-time and Estudiantes had everybody in the penalty area including goalkeeper Albil. However Juan Sebastian Veron’s free-kick was headed just wide by defender Leandro Desabato and the last chance for Veron Jr. to emulate his father’s achievement of 1968 (see “FIFA Club World Cup – Preview” blog) was over. The final whistle was blown and Barcelona’s fans were rejoicing the completion of an unprecedented sextet of trophies: Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Spanish Super Cup, Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup. In a little under eighteen months Barça coach Pep Guardiola, already much decorated as a player, had won everything there was to win as a coach. Already in his fledgling managerial career he will go down as one of the legends of the game for this remarkable achievement.
In the other two matches played to close the tournament Asian champions Pohang Steelers clinched third place beating North/Central American champions Atlante CF 4-3 on penalties after the game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes (no extra-time in this contest). The South Koreans’ success means that the Asian representatives have finished third in the last three tournaments (Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka also finished third in 2007 and 2008 resepectively). In the fifth/sixth place play-off, played on Wednesday December 16th, Oceania’s Auckland City continued their dream tournament by beating African champions TP Mazembe 3-2 securing the win with a last minute winner from Riki van Steeden. This ensured the best ever performance by an Oceanian team in the tournament’s history.
The FIFA Club World Cup is well under way now in the United Arab Emirates and, as expected, there will be a showdown between European champions FC Barcelona and their South American equivalents Estudiantes de la Plata on Saturday, December 19th. Stoppage Time looks at the tournament so far.
The tournament kicked off in Abu Dhabi with the Oceania representatives Auckland City FC, who had previously participated in this tournament in 2006, winning the first match against host team Al Ahli FC 2-0 thanks to goals from Adam Dickinson and Chad Coombes. Thanks to that win the New Zealanders had already achieved their main goal which was to qualify for the quarter-finals, in which they played against North/Central America champions Atlante CF (Mexico). Alas they were unable to progress any further as the Mexicans cruised into the semi-finals winning the game 3-0 due to strikes from Daniel Arreola, Christian Bermudez and Lucas Silva. In the other quarter-final it was a Brazilian who helped Asian champions Pohang Steelers (South Korea) overcome a half-time deficit as Denilson’s two second half goals helped see off the challenge from African Champions League winners TP Mazembe (Congo DR) in a close match 2-1.
The big two of the tournament entered at the semi-final stage. First to play were Estudiantes (Argentina) against Pohang Steelers. Although the Argentines enjoyed twice the amount of possession and had nearly three times as many shots at goal as their opponents they were made to work hard by a Pohang side that were tough to break down. Leandro Benitez scored two minutes into first half stoppage time to give “the Students” the advantage at half-time and followed that with his second goal eight minutes into the second half. It was the Koreans’ own South American influence that brought them back into the game when Denilson pulled one back after 71 minutes. However their discipline, or lack of it, proved their undoing as they had three players sent off the pitch. Two of the players, Kim Jae Sung and goalkeeper Shin Hwa Yong, were sent off in the final eighteen minutes of the game and the numerical advantage allowed Estudiantes to cross the line in comfortable fashion and into their fourth Club World Cup final.
Barcelona’s campaign started with a tougher challenge against Atlante CF just four days after they had won their local derby against Espanyol 1-0 in La Liga. The scorer in the derby, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was among the starters for Barça while Lionel Messi, newly crowned European Footballer of the Year winner, was on the substitutes’ bench. However the Mexicans hadn’t come to the Middle East to make up the numbers and they stunned their more illustrious opponents early on thanks to a Guillermo Rojas goal after five minutes. The game ebbed and flowed for the next thirty minutes until Barcelona equalized thanks to a Sergio Busquets strike and the half finished 1-1. However the second half was to be dominated by the “Blaugrana” as Pep Guardiola’s 52nd minute substitution bringing on Lionel Messi for Yaya Toure, proved a masterstroke as the little Argentine made an immediate impact, rounding the keeper to make it 2-1 on 55 minutes. From here the “Blaugrana” began to take charge and they were further rewarded on 67 minutes when some good work by Andres Iniesta was turned home by Pedro from close range making the score 3-1. The remainder of the game was played almost as a Barcelona training session as Atlante failed to trouble the scoresheet any further and it was the giants from Catalonia who sealed their place in Sunday’s final, their third final since 1992, against Estudiantes de la Plata.