x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Guardiola sees double

Barcelona's inspirational forward Lionel Messi has shaken off an ankle injury and is likely to play some part in today's Club World Cup semi-final against Atlante

ABU DHABI // Barcelona's inspirational forward Lionel Messi has shaken off an ankle injury and is likely to play some part in today's Club World Cup semi-final against Atlante, according to Pep Guardiola, the European champions' manager. "Messi is much, much better, he's in good spirits and has trained very well," said Guardiola yesterday. "Up to now he's feeling 100 per cent and tomorrow we will make a decision."

Guardiola says Messi is in the best position to judge whether or not he can play, and cited a past example of when the player had declared himself available for selection when Guardiola had not felt he was in contention. "He got up to today and felt fine. I remember he had a muscular problem last year in Lyon, but he said he was fine and he was fine," said Guardiola. "We can trust him to say, he knows himself better than anyone else how he is feeling."

Despite Atlante's clinical dismissal of Oceania champions Auckland City in the competition's quarter-final, Barcelona are the clear favourites to advance to Saturday's final against Estudiantes, who beat Pohang Steelers 2-1 last night. Guardiola, however, is taking things one game at a time. "Is there any match for which Barca is not favourite," said Barca's record-breaking coach, who won five trophies in 2009 - his first season as manager. "There is no final to talk about until the semi-final has been played. We have two potential rivals to play here; the opportunity to be champions will be decided at the end of every game by who has scored more goals.

"Everybody is focused on winning the cup, but we are not trying to decipher how our rivals are doing; they know us a lot better and that is an advantage for them. Our players are conscious of that. "It is very difficult to win tournaments of this level and we must concentrate on playing well, then the result will take care of itself." Atlante's free-flowing style is reminiscent of Barca's way of playing and Guardiola is eager to stop the Concacaf side stamping their mark on the game.

"I think the philosophy of the Mexican style and our style are more or less similar," said Guardiola. "We want the ball, they want the ball. It's very important that we don't let them play or we will be running after them for all the game. They have many quality players with a good sense of the game. "Maybe in Europe the speed and velocity of the game is a little higher, but you never know what will happen. They will want to play and if we let them do that we will suffer."

Barca's Rafael Marquez is in the Catalan club's squad, but the Mexican centre-back said that he does not have any inside knowledge on his compatriots. "We are here to do our best and we'll do whatever we can to win," said Marquez. "I haven't had the time to study the finer points of Atlante's style, but they are a wholesome team and wonderfully co-ordinated. It will not be a walk over, we will have to concentrate."

Having lost the Club World Cup final in 2006, Marquez said Barca are anxious, and under pressure, to make amends. "We have a unique opportunity and at the same time an enormous responsibility," he said. "Everybody is here with the same desire, to lift the cup. Whatever tournament we take part in we try to win; there is no possibility for relaxation. We are tense like everyone else." emegson@thenational.ae

Barcelona v Atlante, KO 8pm, Aljazeera Sport 2