ABU DHABI // The European champions Barcelona will train in the capital for the first time today as they prepare for their Club World Cup semi-final against Atlante. All eyes will be on their forward Lionel Messi, who missed Saturday's 1-0 Primera Liga win over Espanyol with an ankle injury.
The Ballon d'Or winner was part of the squad, aiming for their sixth trophy of 2009, expected to arrive in the Emirates late last night. Despite Barca's array of expensive talent, the Atlante coach Jose Guadalupe Cruz said his side had every chance of causing an upset. "Barca are the favourites and are immensely popular," he said. "We're the small guys, but the small guys can make upsets in big games. We're determined to win. They are formidable opponents but you never know."
Estudiantes, the other team who come into the competition at the semi-final stage when they take on Pohang Steelers tomorrow, held their first training session at Abu Dhabi Secondary School yesterday. The session was moved to the indoor venue because of heavy rain in the capital. The Estudiantes president, Ruben Matias, said: "We didn't expect this weather at all. We had spoken to people who told us it would be hot and sunny.
"We can play whether it is raining or not. We respect Barcelona, but we should be respected too. "Pohang have played well so Tuesday's match will not be without its complications. We respect them but are confident." Tournament organisers said last night that bad weather would not affect the tournament despite carrying out repairs to venues yesterday and moving Estudiantes' training session at the last minute. Water had to be pumped out of areas surrounding the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium (MBZ) and Zayed Sports City and electricity supplies were disrupted at both sites.
Fifa's local organising committee said rain would not affect the pitches, with the semi-final between Pohang Steelers and Estudiantes due to be held at the MBZ Stadium tomorrow. New pitches and drainage systems were installed during the summer to prevent the grass becoming waterlogged in the event of downpours such as those seen this week. And with puddles being drained around both venues as long as the rain continues, they are confident getting fans in and out will not be a problem.
"Despite the rain, the fields of play at both stadiums are in good condition and draining well, we do not anticipate any problems," said a statement after an inspection yesterday. "The pitches are designed to handle all types of weather and are performing well." Auckland City cancelled their morning training session yesterday, ahead of their fifth place play-off against TP Mazembe on Wednesday. Steve Vuksich, their media officer, said the decision was made to allow the players a rest.
Rain did affect the horse racing schedule, however, with last night's Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club meeting cancelled due to the sodden track. The finals of the first UAE Development Circuit junior tennis tournament in Dubai were also postponed for a second successive day. email@example.com