x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Solari laments missed chance

The playmaker sensed that Atlante would have had the best team in the world vulnerable to a Club World Cup knockout if they had converted an outstanding opportunity to take a two-goal advantage.

ABU DHABI // Santiago Solari played almost 200 times for Real Madrid and learned during his years at the Bernabeu - before that he was at neighbouring Atletico - what it takes to bring down mighty Barcelona. The midfield playmaker who is now the key member of Atlante's Mexican championship-winning team sensed that he and his colleagues would have had the best team in the world on the ropes and vulnerable to a Club World Cup knockout if they had converted an outstanding opportunity to take a two-goal advantage on Wednesday night.

"I have played against big teams in big matches and I know what it is like when you go two goals behind," said the artful Argentine. "It can make a big difference to the way you perform. "We scored a good opening goal against them and we had an excellent chance to score a second. At 2-0 you never know. It could have been a completely different story. But Barcelona are the best team in the world, so it is no disgrace to lose to them.

"They are favourites to add this trophy to all the others they have won recently even though Estudiantes [their final opponents in the final tomorrow] are an experienced, clever team who will make things difficult for them." Solari, 33, was lamenting the failure of his Atlante midfield partner Fernando Navarro to capitalise when his team split open what looks an alarmingly vulnerable Barca defence at a key stage of an enthralling contest, which eventually finished 3-1 in favour of the European champions.

Atlante's surprise early lead was secured by their Mexican striker Guillermo Rojas, who reflected: "One goal against the best team in the world is not enough. I was happy to score against them and I was pleased with my performance, but sad overall because we lost a match we had a good chance of winning." "We made a couple of mistakes in the second half and they took full advantage. [Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world and the way he took his goal to give them the lead only seconds after coming on to the pitch showed why.

"Barcelona keep the ball well once they get on top. It is very hard to get the ball off them. I think that is their main strength. You have to concentrate all the time when you play against them because in one movement they can change the game." Atlante, who operate on one of the smallest budgets in the Mexican league, thoroughly enjoyed their Abu Dhabi experience and want more of the same next year.

As Solari put it: "There is a lot of work that has to be done to make that happen, but we are keen to make it happen. If it does, I believe we can do better." wjohnson@thenational.ae