Club America vs FC Barcelona
Well, eyes down for a full house. I’m in the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama and, at the time of writing, there are ten minutes to kick-off. Team news: Barca have put out a surprisingly strong team. Ronaldinho, Deco, Gudjohnsen, Van Brockhorst and Zambrotta all start. Just looking down their team list brings a tear to one’s eye. Edmilson, Thuram, Xavi, Sylvinho and Saviola, amongst others, on the bench. Club America have one big surprise, of sorts. Blanco is on the bench. Considering the way he played the other night against Ahly, I’m not shocked by this, but he has influence. Approximately 98% of the crowd is supporting Barca. Not many of them appear to have travelled from Spain.
Teams: CA: Ochoa, Castro, Rojas (O), Davino, Lopez, Cabanas, Fabiano Perreira, Rojas (R), Villa, Arguello, Cuevas. Barca: Victor Valdes, Motta, Marquez, Puyol, Gudjohnsen, Giuly, Ronaldinho, Zambrotta, Van Bronckhorst, Deco, Iniesta.
7.18: Massive applause for the teams as they come out, and the number of flashbulbs may give me some sort of seisure. Also, there may be as many photographers in here tonight as fans.
7.21: A huge collective gasp as Ronaldinho gets the ball for the first time. Fabian Pereira has the temerity to try and tackle him, and is booed to high heaven.
7.25: Barca have opened this like a training match. Their passing is a joy to watch, but CA are sitting off them at the moment.
7.26: First clear chance of the match to CA. A beautiful pass from midfield sends Lopez clear but he clatters into Victor Valdes and the ball squeezes wide. I have, in all honesty, seen penalties given for less.
7.28: Dear me. Ronaldinho should have scored there. Superb pass and move from Barca on the right. The ball is put across to Ronaldinho but his shot is deflected over. A bright opening from both teams, but I don’t know how CA are going to be able to cope with this for 90 minutes.
7.30 GOAL: Barcelona 1-0 Club America. Completely inevitable. Passed straight through the middle, like a training match. The crowd are still gasping at Ronaldinho’s backheel to set it up. Gudjohnsen applies the finish. If they carry on like this, it could be a massacre.
7.35: How much is Lopez going to regret missing that chance in the first couple of minutes? It’s complete one-way traffic at the moment, and Club America are completely pegged back inside their own half.
7.40: The tempo has dropped off a little bit, and Barca’s attacking formation is certainly leaving one or two gaps at the back. Not many, though. CA have come here to sit deep and try and hit Barca on the break, but Lopez causing them a problem because he’s a complete law unto himself. They just broke forward promisingly, but everything had to stop because he was about five yards offside.
7.42: Good chance for CA from a free-kick. Cabanas curls it low, and Victor Valdes has to make a scrambling save. They’ve recovered from their early nerves and are starting to settle now, are CA.
7.45: Half a chance for Zambrotta, who gets a bit of space on the right-hand side, but shoots well wide. Only the CA fans are really making any noise at the moment. A bit of amateur psychology here: I don’t think gasping every time your team gets the ball within thirty yards of the opposition goal helps their confidence.
7.50: GOAL: Barcelona 2-0 Club America – Harsh on CA, who had been getting back into the match, but Deco’s corner is headed in by Rafael Marquez. Poor defending from CA. There’s a cheer that lasts about three seconds, then back to the silence. Mind you, the CA fans are still singing. They’re either hopelessly over-optimistic, hopelessly drunk, or both.
7.55: CA are starting to pass the ball around pretty well, but they have two problems. Firstly, there is always someone offside then the ball gets within 40 yards of the Barca goal. Secondly, you just get the feeling that if they have the temerity to get one, the Catalans will roll their sleeves up and score three in five minutes to teach them a lesson.
8.03: Tumultuous excitement as Ronaldinho steps up to take free-kick from twenty-five yards out. Slow hand-clapping and a ground swell of noise, and then… he hits it straight into the wall. The buffoon.
8.07: Half-time: Barcelona 2-0 Club America – So far, so good for the European Champions. They look, frankly, frightening going forward, though if CA can get a quick goal in the second half (and the gaps are there which suggest that they could), they could quite easily get back into this and make a game of it. Back in fifteen minutes.
8.25: And we’re back. I have finally broken my record of having missed the kick-off to every second half, too. Half-time was spent with the assorted hacks outside the ground, who were largely grumbling about how difficult it is to get a cup of coffee. Having spent five minutes queuing for half a cup of Gold Blend, I’m inclined to agree with them now.
8.30: First exchanges for Barca in the second half. Excellent wing play from Giuly, who was surprisingly anonymous in the first half, but Deco shoots over. I’m still likely to have a seizure from the flashbulbs that go off every time Ronaldinho gets the ball.
8.32: Another chance for Barca – Gudjohnsen turns the ball across the goal and Ochoa saves with his fingertips. The noise that the crowd make every time Barca attack is something like this: “whoooo-orrrrr”, in case you were wondering.
8.34: Half a chance for CA, when Lopez’s shot is blocked by Valdez’s legs, but the flag goes up for offside before anyone can do anything with the rebound.
8.40: Lopez nearly gets on the end of a ball played deep from the midfield, but Valdez is quick of his line and makes the catch. How long before they can no longer resist the temptation to being on the talismanic, if unfit, Blanco? Substitution for Barca, too. Xavi on for Motta. I thought for a second that it might be Puyol coming off – this concerns me because I fear that he may have read what I wrote about him and try to beat me up or something. Yes yes yes. I know how unlikely this is.
8.45: Oops. Blanco came on at half-time. That’s what I get for queuing too long to get coffee.
8.46: GOAL: Barcelona 3-0 Club America – It’s Ronaldinho, no less. Tremendous play on the right by Giuly and Deco. Gudjohnsen’s shot is parried by Ochoa, but Goofy Ron has aaaages to pick his spot from the rebound, and puts it into the top corner. Game over, I think, but how many more can they get?
8.49: It’s Zambrotta’s turn to shine, now. He glides past a hapless CA defender from the left but, because he’s not facing Almunia, the Arsenal goalkeeper that gifted Barca two goals at the near post in this years’s Champions League final, the angle is too tight for him to score. Blocked by Ochoa’s legs.
8.55: Surprising changes for CA. Fabiano Pereira and Claudio Lopez taken off. Lopez has been looking out of sorts this evening. He’s looked as if he is playing from a different script to everybody else. That said, he’s the only one of the CA with the sort of quality that could unlock the Barca defence. There’s only a quarter of an hour to play, though, so it’s kind of academic anyway.
9.00: Suggestion to FIFA: To make these international competitions more exciting, make both teams play dressed in an over-sized foam “It’s A Knockout” style costume, in the style of their club mascot. I think CA could benefit from having an eleven foot eagle in the centre of their midfield. It’s still the CA supporters making all the noise, by the way.
9.02: Ronaldinho has a run at Ochoa, but backheels to Deco instead of shooting. Deco’s shot hits Ochoa in the face and bounces away. I’m almost certain that Ronaldinho’s upper body is reinforced with steel lintels. Straight away, though CA break away impressively, Mendoza has a low shot deflected just wide.
9.04: GOAL – Barcelona 4-0 Club America: Fabulous goal from Deco. Absolutely magnificent. Ronaldinho breaks from the halfway line and tees the ball up for him from twenty yards out, and he absolutely leathers it into the corner. “BRAVO!”, says the man sitting next to me in the press bos, and he’s quite right.
9.08: A sloppy clearance from Ochoa almost gifts a fifth to Barca, but Van Brockhorst’s lob falls a couple of feet over the bar.
9.10: When the press box start oohing and aahing, you know that something special is going on. It’s Van Bronckhorst on the right, taking the ball past two defenders and Ochoa (who, on his performances over both games, deserves better than this) and cuts the ball back, but Ronaldinho is just beaten to the ball.
9.11: Incredible skill from Ronaldinho, who beats three players in ten seconds and lobs Ochoa, but the ball comes back off the crossbar.
9.12: Full Time – FC Barcelona 4-0 Club America: Nothing more or less than an exhibition match, to be honest. If they play at anything like this level, they’re going to be completely unstoppable in the final. It’s fair to say that CA were poor, but what else could they do? Barca had four or five players that could have won this match on their own, more or less. Internacional must be very worried indeed. They’re really going to have their work cut out to prevent a repeat in this on Sunday evening.