European champions Barcelona were greeted like rock stars on their arrival in Japan on Monday to contest the Club World Cup, looking bleary-eyed after a long flight from Spain. Around 300 screaming fans greeted the Spanish giants trying to take pictures of superstars Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez as they swept through Narita airport at around 0800 local time dressed in blue team tracksuits.
Walking alongside Suarez, Messi smiled at fans as cameras flashed, while Neymar, who is an injury concern for the tournament favorites, sported a baseball cap, sunglasses and earphones.
Barcelona, bidding to become the first team to win the Club World Cup three times after lifting the trophy in 2009 and 2011, take on China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the semifinals on Thursday. But Barca coach Luis Enrique is sweating over the fitness of Neymar, who is struggling with a groin strain. The Brazilian has scored 16 times in 18 appearances this season, but Enrique could opt to rest him in Japan.
Barring an upset, Argentina’s River Plate will await the European champions in the final in Yokohama on Dec. 20.
European teams have won the title seven times of the 11 years the competition has been played under the current seven-team format.