Virtuoso Messi leads way as Barca 'artists' rule the world
Published 19/12/2011 | 05:00
IN the end, there was no contest.
All week, Santos wonderkid Neymar had been touted as potentially on par with, if not better than, Lionel Messi.
Yesterday, the shell-shocked teenager received a wake-up call, describing the European, and now World, champions as unstoppable.
And it was Messi who did the damage, scoring two superb goals and contributing to a sensational display that the South American champions simply could not handle. Barcelona wins come at such frequency and with such quality that they can be taken for granted, but this one meant a lot to Pep Guardiola, who was purring in the aftermath.
"My players were like artists," he said. "Whatever they envisaged in their minds they were able to do on the pitch. It was an incredible performance."
Santos coach Muricy Ramalho agreed with his star man and labelled the Catalans as "invincible" after his team were torn to shreds in Yokohama. "Barcelona are the greatest team in the world," he said. "No team can live with them. They're unbeatable at the moment. Losing 4-0 to them is no disgrace."
The La Liga champions gave Santos no chance and hopes of a shootout between Messi and Brazil's teenage sensation Neymar evaporated quickly.
Messi put Barcelona ahead in the 17th minute, exquisitely clipping a left-foot shot over goalkeeper Rafael Cabral after a clever ball from Xavi. Only seven minutes later it was 2-0 when Xavi himself latched on to a pinpoint pass from Dani Alves, beating one defender before smashing the ball home.
Cesc Fabregas hit the post and then stabbed home Barca's third on the stroke of half-time as the Spanish champions threatened to run riot in front of a crowd of 68,000. The former Arsenal midfielder came within a whisker of another goal moments after the restart, forcing a magnificent save from Cabral.
Player of the tournament Messi made it 4-0 eight minutes from time, bursting past Cabral at breathtaking speed to slip the ball into the net and complete the rout.
"It's beautiful to be world champions but it's a team effort," said Messi. "We often play like that but because it was a final it seemed more beautiful."
At times, it appeared that Guardiola was reinventing the tactical manual and was quizzed afterwards about the 3-7-0 formation his team used at times.
The Barcelona manager simply shrugged when asked about his unorthodox methods. "I don't think we were playing 3-7-0. That's just how we play. We try to control the midfield and exploit space."