x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Barcelona: better late than never

Carles Puyol led his Barcelona side on to the pitch at Zayed Sports City last night in front of 40,952 adoring and affectionate fans, but for some parties the Spanish side's arrival on the Club World Cup scene came one week late.

Carles Puyol led his Barcelona side on to the pitch at Zayed Sports City last night in front of 40,952 adoring and affectionate fans, but for some parties the Spanish side's arrival on the Club World Cup scene came one week late. This year's tournament got under way on December 9, yet the European Champions didn't even touch down at Abu Dhabi International Airport until the early hours of Sunday December 13.

As is customary in the annual 10-day tournament, the European champions had been granted a bye to the semi- finals, along with the winners of the Copa Libertadores, this year Argentine team Estudiantes de La Plata. When the South Americans defeated Sergio Farias's Pohang Steelers 2-1 on Tuesday, the Brazilian - after vehemently criticising the Italian referee Roberto Rosetti - lambasted the structure of the tournament, claiming his opponents would not have reached the final had they not been fast-tracked to the final four.

Farias's flawed argument that all competing teams should start in the first round is not only unrealistic, it is also entirely unfeasible. Auckland City - who competed in the opening match of the tournament with the Dubai club Al Ahli - arrived in the UAE on December 2. Between then and now Barcelona have played five matches, including a Champions League game against Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine. An eight-day trip to the Emirates, while undoubtedly a challenge to schedule, is viable. To ask Pep Guardiola to bring his team here for any longer would be akin to asking him to not bother bringing them at all. It would almost certainly achieve the same result.

Last year's winners, Manchester United, played 65 competitive matches during the 2008-09 season, five games more than title rivals Chelsea and almost 25 matches more than Farias's Steelers side. Throw in a potential two additional matches and the European teams would refuse to play, discrediting the event and undermining the tournament's objective, which is to determine the best club team in the world while promoting the sport in a region where football is developing.

Farias could argue that Barcelona cannot possibly be overworked if they intend, as they do, to fly directly to Kuwait for a friendly match with Club Kasma on December 21. He could also refer to Sir Alex Ferguson's decision two seasons ago to accept a lucrative invitation to compete in Sami Al Jaber's testimonial in Saudi Arabia. But playing in an exhibition match and taking part in a Fifa-affiliated tournament are far from similar. Al Hilal defeated United 3-2 in January 2008, but there are few people who watched the match who would claim the better side won. United turned up, took the cheque and returned to Old Trafford in time to beat Portsmouth 2-0. Job done. .

Barca's victory over the Concacaf champions last night may have looked comfortable, but you can be sure it was a tiring task. And a task they gave maximum importance. Apparently, Guardiola had been asked earlier this week if he could organise a player or two to make a short appearance at the FC Barcelona Escola in Dubai. The meticulous tactician, however, regrettably refused, explaining that his team are not in the Emirates to provide public appearances; they are here to win their sixth title in 12 months.

Puyol led his men off the field last night knowing they were halfway towards accomplishing their mission - and all indicators suggest that next year the European champions will, after just one match, be rewarded similarly: with a place in the final. @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae