Iniesta: "It’s very difficult to get here"

The Barça midfielder recalled how hard it is to get to participate in the World Club Cup and believes that winning in Japan would be a “pretty good” end of year, and lead to a “happy” Christmas

With only 24 hours to go before the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup, Barça are no longer thinking of anything else. Andres Iniesta, one of the most influential players in the squad, said at the press conference after the game that the team have come here “with all the enthusiasm and desire in the world to win again”. Andres wanted to emphasise the difficulty of getting to participate for a World title like this one: “To be here you have to win the Champions League, which today is very hard. If we win the World Club Championship it will have been a great year and we’ll have a very happy Christmas”.

“We’ve felt the fans’ euphoria”

Although they are a long way from Barcelona, Andres Iniesta wanted to make it clear that the players feel the happiness being felt in Catalonia after the 3-1 win in the Bernabeu. “The win has done a lot for all of us. Even from afar we’ve felt the fans’ euphoria. When you win a game like that it gives you a boost for everything that comes later” he said, aware that the win in Madrid means they’ll go into the semi-final against Al-Sadd with even more confidence. He stressed, though, that despite the victory against Real Madrid, “there’s a long way to go in the League”.

Good sensations

In this regard, he assured everybody that the squad is in good shape: “I don’t know how the defeat will affect Real Madrid. I can only talk about my own sensations with our team, which are very good. For us it was really important to win”. The Barça number 8 took advantage of his appearance at the press conference, too, to reject the idea that Barça doesn’t do so well against the smaller teams: “This team has shown that we show the same respect whether we’re playing at Hospitalet or in the San Siro“.

A special competition

For Iniesta, this World Club competition is very special. Even more so for him, as when Barça won in 2009, Iniesta was injured in the semifinals and missed the Final. “Personally, it’s an extra motivation. That year I had lots of problems with injuries, and I really hope I can play in the Final” he said, whilst recalling that Barça have already lost a few finals, but have always been able to come back and play again in later editions.

Do you want Messi to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated?

Messi and Barça could be on the cover of 'Sports Illustrated' / PHOTO: ARXIU FCB
The FC Barcelona striker could be the face on the issue of the magazine at the end of December

Messi and Barça are in the running after winning the Champions League final against Manchester United

The fans can vote for him until next Friday on Facebook

For the first time in its history Sports Illustrated, the prestigious American magazine, is holding a Facebook vote for its readers around the world to decide who they would like to appear on the last cover of the year. Readers are being asked to pick their favourite sporting moment of 2011 and one of the options is Messi celebrating his goal in the Champions League final at Wembley. The magazine firmly believes that FC Barcelona‘s performance against Manchester United consecrated them as the best team in the world.

To vote for Messi, all you have to do is go to the Sports Illustrated Facebook page and put the Argentinian on the top of your list.

The weekly magazine has 3 million subscribers and is read by about 23 million people.

12 possible debuts at Club World Cup

Cesc Fàbregas. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ (FCB).
12 of the 23 players that Barça have taken to Japan have never appeared in the competition before

But Valdés, Puyol, Iniesta and Xavi are going for the third time

Although they are all used to top level competition, 12 of the 23 players in the Barça squad in Japan have yet to play in the Club World Cup. These are Fàbregas, Villa, Alexis, Thiago, Pinto, Mascherano, Maxwell, Adriano, Fontàs, Cuenca, Oier and Dos Santos. Pinto, Maxwell and Dos Santos were in the squad in 2009, but didn’t play in either match.

Yokohama 2006 – Abu Dhabi 2009 – Yokohama 2011

There are eleven survivors from the first time Barça won the trophy in 2009: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Messi, Pedro and Iniesta. The four captains (Valdés, Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi) were also in the team that played in the tournament in 2006, but where FCB lost in the final by Internacional of Porto Alegre.

Guardiola’s third

It is also Pep Guardiola’s third taste of the competition. He lost as a player in 1992 against Sao Paulo (2-1), but 17 years later savoured victory as manager in Abu Dhabi against Estudiantes of La Plata (2-1).

Piqué: “We can’t miss out on chances like this”

Roda de premsa de Piqué i Mascherano a Japó. FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ (FCB).
The centre back is keen to win his second Clubs World Cup and feels the team is going the right way about it

Mascherano elegantly accepted being a sub at the Bernabéu

The team is continuing to prepare for the Clubs World Cup in Japan. On Tuesday evening, local time, Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano spoke to the press after training. “We can’t miss out on chances like this”, said the former.

He also said that “we haven’t yet adapted to the time change or recovered from such a long journey … We trained a bit harder today and tomorrow we’ll train even harder”.

Doing things right

On the recent win at the Bernabéu, Piqué said “we are very happy with our play and the result. We left feeling that we’re on the right track and doing things well … The team knew we were able to win there”. On the tactics used, he said “we can change our system as we like, and play with either three or four defenders”.

Mascherano modest

Javier Mascherano was one of the substitutes at Real Madrid: “I have to accept my place” he said. “Piqué and Puyol are the first choice centre backs and if they’re fit, they play”. Did he agree with those who reckon Barça were fortunate on Saturday night? “Lucky? I was on the bench, and I saw a very different game, where Barça was the better team and let a goal in after thirty seconds but still played their usual game”.

Solidarity with children of Fukushima

Photo with the children affected by Fukushima / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Before the training session on Tuesday, the Barça first team players and coaches had a short meeting with eleven young people from the area affected by the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power centre

It happened at the Yokohama Marinos training ground which FC Barcelona are using for the Clubs World Cup. After a day’s rest, it was back to work for the players. But first, the earliest part of the session was dedicated to solidarity.

The players met a group of eleven children aged between 9 and 18 years from the Fukushima area. The children were all presented with a Barça shirt with their own name on the back, namely Ryo Takahashi, Syuto Matsuzaki, Kouki Kato, Masatoshi Matsubara, Kazuki Fujita, Hirotaka Kato , Takuya Kato, Kana Ogata, Natsuki Abe, Hikaru Nitsuma and Dai Watanabe.

President Sandro Rosell was also there to present a shirt with the words ‘FCB with Japan‘ to the director of the Tokyo metropolitan government’s education programme, Tominari Yamakawa, the government’s special delegate to the Fukushima refugees. The institutional representation also involved Spanish ambassador Miguel Ángel Navarro and the director of the Instituto Cervantes, Víctor Ugarte, who had both helped to set up the meeting.

One step away from Barça’s unbeaten record at the Bernabéu

Between 1969 and 1974, Barça visited their arch-rival’s stadium five times without losing; Guardiola is one game away from equalling that feat

After the brilliant 1-3 at the Santiago Bernabéu this Saturday, Guardiola’s Barça is on the verge of becoming the Barça team with the longest unbeaten run in the Liga at the Bernabéu. Since 2008, the team has played four games at the Bernabéu without knowing defeat. In the 2009/10 season Barça put six past Madrid and conceded two (in a game that clinched the title), the next year Barça won by 0-2 and last season the Azulgranas managed a valuable draw (1-1).

All in all, Guardiola’s men have won three games and tied one against Madrid at the Bernabéu, scoring 12 goals and conceding 4. To these spectacular numbers we must add Barça’s victory in the Champions League 2010/11 (0-2) and the draw in the away leg of the Spanish Super Cup (2-2). In total, four victories and two draws in six visits to the Spanish capital.

Record within reach

Even with Barça’s amazing run with Guardiola on the bench, the team is one game away from Barça’s all-time unbeaten record at the Bernabéu. The record was set in 1969 through 1974, during which time Barça played in Madrid on five occasions in the Liga: 3-3 (69/70), 1-1 (70/71), 0-0 (72-73) and 0-5 (73/74). Three different coaches graced Barça’s bench during this time: Salvador Artigas, Vic Buckhingham and Rinus Michels.

Second Barça training session in Japan ahead of debut against Al-Sadd

The team trains in Yokohama / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
After almost a whole day off, the first team returned to training ahead of their first game in the Clubs World Cup on Thursday against Al-Sadd

The session was open to the press and involved all 23 players that have travelled to Japan

The second session in the Far East started at 20.00 am CET, and came 24 hours after the first session since arriving. The venue was the Yokohama Marinos training ground, and the Clubs World Cup was on everybody’s mind. FC Barcelona‘s first opponent in its bid to win the title for the second time will be Al-Sadd of Qatar.

Nobody missing

The session was open to the media and involved all 23 players that have flown to Yokohama. After a warm-up and circuit training, they divided into three groups for games on a downsized field. Wearing blue were Piqué, Fontàs, Adriano, Xavi, Messi, Pedro and Alexis. In organe bibs were Maxwell, Puyol, Keita, Cuenca, Cesc and Alves. The side with no bibs was formed by Abidal, Thiago, Iniesta, Villa, Mascherano and Dos Santos. Sergio Busquets acted as a wildcard, rotating between teams, and goalkeepers Valdés, Pinto and Oier were all rotated.

The players share their day off in Japan on Twitter

Andrés Iniesta in the Tokyo metro
Some of Barça’s players shared their day off in Japan with their Twitter followers

The team’s main attraction was the metro, where they went largely unnoticed by fellow travellers

The FC Barcelona players took advantage of the 24 hours of free time given to them by Pep Guardiola to explore and have a bit of fun in Japan.

The metro was the first stop for most of the players as they were able to enjoy a few hours of anonymity. Piqué posted a picture of Carles Puyol trying to buy tickets on his Twitter account; minutes later it was the captain that posted a photo of himself, Cesc and Fontàs riding the train. The midfielder was also active on his social media accounts and uploaded a photo of himself with a Japanese fan.

Iniesta, going incognito on the metro

Andrés Iniesta and Dani Alves also decided to share their day with their Twitter followers. The Spaniard, completely unnoticed by the rest of the passengers, posted a photo of himself inside the train car.

Dani Alves, on the other hand, was much more active online. First, he posted an image of the team walking through an airport hallway decorated with a banner that read ‘Welcome to Japan.’ He then went on to document his experience in the Yokohama metro station, and finally he posted a couple of photos of himself playing around in a display carriage.

De la Cruz, the link between Barça and Yokohama

Toño de la Cruz in Yokohama. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ- FCB.
The ex-Barça player and assistant manager returns to the city where he managed at the end of the 90s

“I have great affection for the Yokohama Marinos and FC Barcelona,” said De la Cruz

One of FC Barcelona’s expedition members that travelled to Japan knows the country very well, Yokohama to be precise, where the Club World Cup will be played. It’s Toño de la Cruz, Barça player in the 70s, manager of Barça’s youth squads in the 80s and assistant to the first team at the beginning of this century. De la Curz’s only experience as manager away from FC Barcelona was when he was with the Yokohama Marinos, at the end of the 90s.

An emotional return

“I spent three years managing in Japan, this team precisely, the Yokohama Marinos. It was a thrilling, extraordinary and unforgettable experience,” said De la Cruz. For this reason it was an emotional return for him: “It was an emotional experience reuniting with people that I had worked with previously and, despite my time away, we still have affection for one another.” He continued: “I have great memories and affection for this club and for Japanese football.”

Barça’s philosophy in Japan

On his time with the Marinos, during which the team managed to maintain good form and regular appearances at the top half of the table, the now Barça TV and Radio Barça pundit admits: “I applied a few things that I had learned with Barça’s youth squads to Yokohama.” After his Japanese adventure, De la Cruz returned to be Barça’s assistant coach: “The experience I got here helped me to make important decisions at FC Barcelona,” he said.