A superb Luis Suárez hat-trick sent Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande crashing out of the FIFA Club World Cup on Thursday to secured Barcelona a date with the South American champions River Plate in Sunday’s final.
With the news breaking in the hour before the game that Lionel Messi was suffering abdominal pain and the absence of Neymar, the other third of the world-famous trident was out in all his glory and some more to fire Barça into the Club World Cup Final with three goals in Yokohama.
In the opening exchanges, Guangzhou goalkeeper Li Shuai looked to have carried the excellent form he showed against Club America into this semi-final encounter. Two excellent balls from Andres Iniesta were on their way to Munir El Haddadi and Dani Alves respectively as the Spanish side threatened, but the 33-year-old was off his line smartly on both occasions to avert the danger.
Barcelona came close to scoring just after the half hour mark when another excellent ball from Iniesta was headed just wide by El Haddadi.
The game suffered an unfortunate incident a minute later when Zheng Zou fell awkwardly following an aerial duel with Dani Alves and had to be stretchered off after suffering what appeared to be a nasty injury.
Barcelona took the lead in the 39th minute when Li Shuai could only parry Ivan Rakitic’s powerful strike from distance into the path of Suarez, who was on hand to poke home the rebound.
Rather than be deterred by the goal, Guangzhou were spurred into action and caused Barcelona a few headaches due to the excellent delivery of their crosses from Long Zheng. They almost found an equaliser before the break from his free-kick when Elkeson’s flick header forced Claudio Bravo into a scrambling save low to his right.
Suarez got his and Barça’s second of the evening five minutes after the restart. It was Iniesta who supplied the assist, putting through a sublime through-ball which the former Liverpool forward chested down before producing a fine finish.
After providing the ammunition for Suarez, Iniesta tried a speculative shot from distance which whistled just over the bar as Barcelona began to stroll.
Suarez completed his hat-trick from the spot in the 67th minute after El Haddadi had been fouled in the box by Huang Bowen. Li Shuai dived the right way, but the Uruguayan’s penalty had too much power and precision for him to stop.
At the game petered out Suarez went close twice more as two left-footed shots were curled narrowly wide. The desire for goals from Barcelona’s No9 and the support shown by the Guangzhou Evergrande fans did not diminish during the course of the match.