x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Guardiola ready for nostalgic assignment at the Club World Cup

The European champions take on Qatar's Al Sadd in Thursday's match with the Barcelona coach already familiar with the opposition.

The good news for the fans is that Lionel Messi is fit and took part in training in Yokohama.
The good news for the fans is that Lionel Messi is fit and took part in training in Yokohama.

Pep Guardiola is looking forward to a Gulf reunion when his European champions play Al Sadd in the Club World Cup this week.

The Barcelona coach played for the Qatari side Al Ahli for two season towards the tail end of his playing career and will pit his wits against another team from Doha on Thursday when Barca face the Asian champions.

The tournament is taking place in Japan having been staged in Abu Dhabi for the previous two years.

"I have played Al Sadd a number of times," said the Spaniard, who played for Al Ahli from 2003 to 2005. "In fact, I lived in Qatar with my family for about two years in the past. It's a very good country and I have respect for them. I'm happy to play them."

Barcelona narrowly won the 2009 title in the UAE capital by beating Estduiantes of Argentina 2-1 in extra time in the final.

"We had a hard time in the final two years ago. We will show you a wonderful game, and emerge as the winners this time," said Guardiola.

The four-time European champions, with star forward Argentine Lionel Messi, arrived in Tokyo late on Sunday night, about 14 hours after their 3-1 el clasico victory over Real Madrid.

The squad had just half a day's rest before hitting the pitch to train in Yokohama as they prepare for Thursday's semi-final with Al Sadd, who beat Esperance Sportive of Tunisia to progress to the semi-final.

Brazil's Santos are seeded in the other half of the tournament, and will play the newly-crowned Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol.

"I will give my players as much free time as possible," Guardiola told a press briefing. "Leo [Messi] isn't tired. He is all fit. [But)] I want them to relieve their accumulated fatigue before the match by reading books or otherwise relaxing themselves. Then they will raise their concentration levels."

Gerard Pique, the central defender, apparently has a problem with the time difference. "It is 6.36am here in Yokohama and already I can no longer sleep," he said on Twitter.

The victory over Real put Barcelona top of the Primera Liga.

"We are here highly motivated and raring to go," Carles Puyol, the captain, said.

"It is very important for us to win this tournament. We have come after beating Real and we can go out with full confidence."

Barcelona could become the only club to win the title twice.

"We are looking ahead as we always try to make history," Dani Alves said. "Our team have struggled really hard to qualify for this tournament so we will seize on this chance to climb to the top."