ABU DHABI // Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Barcelona's tall, talismanic striker, has hailed the strength in depth of the European champions ahead of tomorrow's Club World Cup final with Estudiantes de La Plata. The Spanish side were forced to start Wednesday's final-four encounter against Atlante without Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi and then had to fight back from a goal behind to beat the reigning Concacaf champions 3-1.
But while Guillermo Rojas opened the scoring in the fourth minute for the Mexicans, Sergio Busquets equalised, Messi, a 54th-minute substitute scored with only his third touch of the ball, and Pedro sealed his side's success 13 minutes later. Coach Pep Guardiola will have to reshuffle the pack again tomorrow after mercurial midfielder Andres Iniesta was ruled out through injury. The Spaniard picked up a knock to his left thigh during the victory and was replaced by Bojan Krkic in the 75th minute, but Swedish striker Ibrahimovic, a £40million (Dh240m) summer signing from Inter Milan, said the fact that Barca were able to win, despite missing some key players, is proof of the quality they have in the ranks.
"I think that is why Barcelona are so good, because even if these players do not play, we have replacements ready to come in," said the 28-year-old. "[Against Atlante] Pedro starts and scores - that is the difference. He might not start every time, but he's shown again that he can fill in for the other guys." Teammate Yaya Toure, the Ivory Coast midfielder whose flicked header set up Busquets's equali-ser, was quick to agree, adding that the depth of the Barcelona squad has been crucial in the Catalan club's ongoing quest to make history.
"We have 22 or 24 players who can play at the highest level," said Toure. "We have shown exactly that by winning five trophies this year and hopefully we can make that six [tomorrow]." Barca may have won every competition they have taken part in over the past 12 months, but they looked shaken after Rojas's early opener. Yet they were able to collect themselves to finish the game deserved winners. Ibrahimovic put in a determined performance and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. The former Juventus forward, who has scored 11 goals in 13 league games, is expected to start tomorrow.
"We have a great team, but behind everything is hard work," he said. "If we did not work hard, we would not win as we do. Not many teams can play the way we play and I like it that way because we make teams run a lot, we make them very tired and that makes it easier for each of us. "But [against Estudiantes] we will need to focus on our own game and not exaggerate what we are doing. "We will do everything within our power to win the game, keep on playing the way we play, but we have no different ideas; just focus on playing our game, creating chances and hopefully being able to score then everything can end well like it did [on Wednesday]."