Barcelona, while red-hot
favourites to win their second Club World Cup in three years,
know the 20,000-kilometre round trip to Japan and back could
come at a heavy cost.
Locked in a tooth-and-nail battle with Real Madrid in La
Liga, Barca face their bitter rivals in next weekend's 'Clasico'
before immediately jetting off to the Far East.
The European champions join the December 8-18 Club World Cup at
the semi-final stage along with Brazil's Santos, winners of
South America's Libertadores Cup.
Japan's Kashiwa Reysol, who won their first J-League title
at the weekend, take on Auckland City in the opening game of the
seven-team FIFA competition on Thursday.
But Barcelona's collection of big-name players, led by
Argentina's Lionel Messi, will be expected to lift the trophy -
even if it turns out to be fool's gold.
Real Madrid lead Barca by three points at the top of La
Liga, with a game in hand over Pep Guardiola's side heading into
a potentially bruising encounter at the Bernabeu this Saturday.
A side boasting Spanish World Cup winners Xavi, Andres
Iniesta, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas should still have enough
in the tank to win in Japan.
"We'll need to adapt quickly," Fabregas told fifa.com. "It
will be a long journey with time zone complications involved and
we go into a tough game with very little time to prepare."
Barcelona, who beat Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley in May
to win their fourth European Cup, face either Qatar's Al Sadd or
Tunisian club Esperance on December 15 in Yokohama.
The long-haul flight and quick turnaround after returning
could take its toll on the Spaniards.
"This is Barcelona," added Fabregas. "We're obliged to win
every game. It's what people expect. That makes it mandatory for
us and we have to deliver."
Santos, who captured their third Libertadores Cup in June,
almost 50 years after Pele inspired them to back-to-back titles
in 1962 and 1963, could prove formidable opponents.
Barring shock defeats in their respective semi-finals,
Barcelona will be casting envious eyes at prolific young striker
Neymar, instrumental in his side's Libertadores triumph.
The Catalan giants are among several European clubs to have
offered a fortune for Neymar but the 19-year-old pin-up recently
signed a new deal to stay with Santos until 2014.
"There was a lot of talk about a move to Barcelona or Real
Madrid," said Xavi. "But he is staying at Santos. He will become
a great player. He has amazing ability."
The Club World Cup will come as a welcome distraction for
embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter after a turbulent year and
growing calls for his resignation.
A corruption scandal led to his unopposed re-election before
Blatter sparked outrage last month by saying racist abuse on the
pitch should be settled by a handshake after the game.
For the lesser-known teams, however, the Club World Cup
offers a rare and lucrative chance to mix it with some of the
game's best players.
"For a small amateur team like ours, it's going to take
something absolutely out of the ordinary to get any kind of
result," said Auckland captain Ivan Vicelich.
While the tournament has faced criticism for the level of
competition, Esperance will relish the long trip after a year of
political turmoil and a revolution in Tunisia.
The African champions face Al Sadd, who defied the odds to
beat Jeonbuk Motors on a penalty shootout in the Asian Champions
Esperance play Al Sadd on December 11, the same day that
Mexico's Monterrey face the winner of the tournament curtain
raiser for the right to meet Santos in the semi-finals.
Kashiwa should emerge victorious from that match but
stranger things have happened, Auckland producing two upset wins
at the 2009 Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Spurs miss out on Champions League again despite highest Premier League points tally
Champions closer to matching Real Madrid's La Liga record of 100 points with 2-1 win
AC Milan score twice in last six minutes to beat relegated Siena 2-1 to finish third
Carlo Ancelotti informs PSG officials that he wants to leave at the end of the season
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010