ABU DHABI // The notion that the Club World Cup had already been engraved in readiness to join five other pieces of silverware in the Nou Camp trophy cabinet was, for a captivating half-hour last night, made to look extremely foolish as the aristocrats of Barcelona played catch-up with Mexican rivals Atlante. Class and world football's form book eventually prevailed as Pep Guardiola's men impressively kept alive their pursuit of six competitions in one stellar year.
The Spanish giants were indebted to an inspirational arrival from the substitute's bench by the game's most accomplished performer, Lionel Messi, which enabled Barcelona to establish a belated grip on an enthralling semi-final. The diminutive Argentine, winner of the prestigious Ballon d'Or, scored with his third touch in the 54th minute just seconds after coming on after timing a run brilliantly on to a clever pass from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to complete his team's spirited revival from an early wake-up call sent out by the opposing striker Guillermo Rojas.
Victory was then sealed midway through a one-sided second period when Pedro's strike earned the Spanish striker the unique distinction of scoring in all six competitions that his team had entered. Barcelona, who had drawn level through Sergio Busquets, were well worthy of claiming their anticipated place in Saturday's final against South American champions Estudiantes de la Plata but they by no means had things all their own way.
Behind from the fifth minute until the 35th, Barca looked worried about impending embarrassment until Busquets eased their anxiety by sweeping the ball confidently into the Atlante net after Yaya Toure had got a telling near-post flick to Xavi's right-wing corner. That timely equaliser brought relief to a capacity crowd who were overwhelmingly in favour of the Spanish and European champions. Launching a Mexican wave in recognition of Busquets' rescue act had more than a touch of irony. It was far too early to wave goodbye to the plucky Mexicans.
Curiously, there was no wave in recognition of Pedro's clincher - a confident close-range stab home after impressive approach work by Andres Iniesta. Even then Atlante refused to accept their fate and it needed a brilliant reaction save from the mainly unemployed Valdes from the breaking Rafael Marquez to preserve the two-goal cushion. A totally different scenario beckoned early on as the delightfully atmospheric Zayed Sports City was cast into near-silent shock as the favourites were knocked out of their swaggering stride with barely four minutes on the clock. Rojas chased a long clearance by his goalkeeper Federico Vilar more in hope than expectation but the tall striker reached the high bouncing ball a split second before the advancing Victor Valdes and looped the ball over the goalkeeper.
The ball was drifting inches wide until Rojas chased it down and skilfully diverted it home with his outstretched left foot. It could have been worse for the European champions if Fernando Navarro had shown greater composure when bursting clean through. The situation from the right-hand edge of the penalty area cried out for a fierce drive past the badly exposed Valdes but Navarro tried instead to set up his chasing colleagues in the middle of the area and a glorious opportunity was squandered. As that dangerous situation evaporated Jose Cruz's men sensed their big chance to make history had passed them by and after that it was nearly all Barcelona.
Ibrahimovic, who had threatened several times before the interval, almost snatched the goal his all-round efforts deserved when he spotted Vilar out of position and unleashed a curving shot from 30 yards. The Argentine goalkeeper somehow got back to make a thrilling acrobatic save. email@example.com