Barcelona were mobbed by Japanese fans on Monday after holding their first training session at the FIFA Club World Cup. The European champions, bidding to become the first team to win the competition three times, had a gentle run-out in Yokohama after being greeted like rock stars on their arrival in Japan earlier in the day.
Brazilian star Neymar, who is struggling with a groin strain, sat out the practice but his strike partners Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez appeared in a relaxed mood as they prepared for Thursday’s semifinal against Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande.
“Obviously Guangzhou have proved they are a strong team,” Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said.
“We know they have a good mix of decent players, including some Brazilians, and we won’t be taking the game lightly. Hopefully we can play our style of football because we have come to Japan to win the title again.”
He added: “The main thing is dealing with the jet-lag and making sure we are properly prepared and ready to go, but we know it won’t be easy.”
Barca players posed briefly for photos and signed autographs for fans, with Messi and Andres Iniesta drawing their loudest cheers from a crowd of around 200 mostly local fans.
Despite drawing their past three games, two in La Liga bookending a 1-1 deadlock at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, Barca’s spirits will have been lifted after Real Madrid suffered a shock 1-0 defeat by Villarreal on Sunday. That result leaves Real five points adrift of Barcelona at the top of the league, providing the Catalan giants with a tonic after flying 6,600 miles (10,700km) to play in the Far East.
– Real trouble –
And Barcelona, who thrashed Real 4-0 at the Bernabeu in the “Clasico” last month, can twist the knife by winning the world title their fierce rivals captured in Morocco last year. If there was any schadenfreude at Real’s troubles among the Barca players, however, Busquets did a good job concealing it.
“La Liga is a completely different competition,” he shrugged. “We are here for the Club World Cup and it’s very important to us. It would be another title, and that’s the goal: to keep winning as many titles for Barca as we can.”
Barring an upset, Argentina’s River Plate will await the European champions in the final in Yokohama on Dec. 20. But the South Americans first have to beat J-League title holders Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Wednesday’s first semifinal in Osaka.