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.

Puyol: "The team want to keep making history”

Carles Puyol and Dani Alves talk to the press in Japan / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB
“We are full of excitement and very keen,” according to the FC Barcelona captain and Dani Alves was also clear that: “we are all very focused on this marvellous opportunity”

Carles Puyol and Dani Alves spoke to the massed ranks of the media in Yokohama, following the first training session at the training ground of Yokohama Marinos. Both players were clear that after the win at the Bernabeu, “the team are coming in to the game full of confidence,” whilst insisting that game is in the past, “we are very happy for all the praise, but we know this is always tough. We are full of excitement and very keen, though well aware that it’s going to be hard,” explained the Barça captain.

Puyol explained, “we are coming to win. This team wish to continue to make history.” Whilst Alves made it clear, “we are all very focused on this marvellous opportunity to take part in the Club World Cup. We are centred on this competition, which we have reached through hard work and doing things the right way”.

Respect for Al-Sadd

Puyol and Alves again showed respect for Thursday’s rivals Al-Sadd: “if Al-Sadd have made it into the semi-finals, it’s because they are a good team. We will analyse them and try and beat them.”

Puyol also expressed his satisfaction at the reception the team have been given in Japan: “we have always been treated well here. We are proud to see so many Barça fans and we hope to give them something to smile about on Thursday.”

Spanish League Round Up Week 15

Molina, Castro and Isidoro (Betis)-
After the excitement of the Clasico, La Liga threw up a few surprises at the weekend, with Betis finally back to winning ways, seeing off Valencia 2-1

Sporting winning at Rayo and Racing taking a point at Bilbao. Llevant also got a great result, beating Seville 1-0

Third placed Valencia looked to have the points wrapped up at Betis on Saturday, before two injury time goals from Ruben Castro turned the result around to give the Seville side their first win in 11 games, winning 2-1. Betis are now one of five sides on 16 points, alongside Real Sociedad, Getafe, Granada and Rayo with Villarreal and Sporting on 15, Racing a further two points back and Zaragoza bottom on 10 points.

Llevant guaranteed UCL place at Xmas

Valencia’s slip up means that Llevant have closed the gap to just a point between third and fourth, with their 1-0 win over Seville on Saturday. With a five point lead over fifth placed Seville now, Llevant are guaranteed to be sat in the top four over the break and their manager Juan Ignacio Martinez admitted: “never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we’d be in this situation just before Christmas”. Malaga are level on points with Seville after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Osasuna, with Isco drawing the hosts level after Ibrahima had put the Basques ahead in the first half.

Espanyol see off Atletico Madrid

That point means the Pamplona team, who spent much of last season struggling to avoid relegation, are now in seventh, two points off Malaga and Seville and two above Espanyol, who saw off Atletico Madrid 4-2. Pochettino’s team were three up after just 18 minutes, thanks to two from Verdu and a third from Romaric and although Falcao managed to pull one back before the break, a Sergio Garcia strike on 53 minutes guaranteed the points, despite a late consolation from Arda Turan. That defeat leaves Atletico nearer to the relegation zone than to the European places and further confirmed their terrible away record – one draw and five defeats so far this season.

Great win for Sporting

Of the teams below Atletico, only Rayo, Granada and Zaragoza lost, with Sporting getting a tremendous 1-3 win at Rayo, with two goals from Nacho Novo, Getafe squeezing out a 1-0 win over Granada thanks to a late Casquero strike and Mallorca making it five games on the run unbeaten, seeing off a sorry Zaragoza 0-1 at La Romareda.  Racing grabbed a point with an injury time equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Bilbao, whilst Villarreal and Real Sociedad shared the points in a 1-1 draw at El Madrigal.