Lionel Messi has described
Barcelona's 'Clasico' clash against bitter rivals Real Madrid
this weekend as one which could define their season, coming just
before an exhausting trip to Japan.
The European champions trail Real by three points having
played a game more in their bid to win La Liga for a fourth year
in a row, giving Saturday's clash added significance.
Barca fly to Japan for the Club World Cup after the match
and Messi warned defeat at the Bernabeu combined with a
20,000-kilometre round trip to the Far East could derail their
"It's vital we get a good result," said the mercurial
Argentina forward. "It would set us up for the rest of the
"If we don't then we're not going to have much time to relax
because we've got the trip to Japan, which is very important for
Barcelona will be bidding to win the seven-team Club World
Cup for the second time in three years, after beating Argentine
side Estudiantes in Abu Dhabi in 2009.
"We've got some lovely memories of the last one we played
in," Messi told FIFA.com before Thursday's opening game
between Japan's Kashiwa Reysol and Auckland City of New Zealand.
"We can't wait to experience that again and celebrate in the
Brazil's Santos, who won their third Libertadores Cup in
June, almost 50 years after Pele led them to back-to-back titles
in 1962 and 1963, will provide a stern test for Barca.
A likely final between the two sides has been given extra
spice after Pele recently claimed Brazil forward Neymar was a
better player than Messi.
"Neymar is much better, more complete," Brazil great Pele
was quoted as saying by Globoesporte. "He hits well with both
feet, can dribble off either side, and scores goals."
The three-times World Cup winner said 19-year-old Neymar
held the edge because he "plays well for both Santos and the
Messi has refused to be drawn into any individual
comparisons before Pep Guardiola's side enter the tournament,
along with Santos, at the semi-final stage next week.
"We are always under the obligation to win," Messi said of
the all-conquering Catalan giants.
"It's a really important tournament and we'll try to come
out on top, just as we always do."
Messi said Barcelona would not be taking their opponents -
Tunisia's Esperance or Asian champions Al Sadd of Qatar -
lightly in their semi-final on December 15.
"We can't afford to relax," he said. "Everyone thought the
two favourites were going to reach the final last time and [Brazil's] Internacional fell short."
Messi also refused to blame jet-lag if Barca fail to lift
the trophy in Yokohama on December 18.
"We'll have the time to adapt," he said of the
energy-sapping trip. "With all the trips to Argentina and South
America we're used to all the travel."
A quick turnaround after their whistle-stop trip to the Far
East could also take its toll on Barcelona's La Liga and
Champions League campaign but Messi brushed off concerns about
"We know what we're capable of and how far we can go," he
said. "We've got a lot of games to get through, that's true, and
it's never easy to maintain top form.
"But we really don't care what people are saying. We're
staying cool, calm and collected. Nobody knows what this team is
capable of better than we do."
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