2009 Club World Cup Final: Estudiantes de la Plata 1, FC Barcelona 2, a.k.a. “How can you top this? YOU CAN’T!!!”By: Ade C. | December 20th, 2009
The future is dark, ladies and gentlemen, like Pep Guardiola said yesterday before the match. There is no possible way we (or anyone else, for that matter) can top what we achieved yesterday. Six titles. Six cups. Everything we played for, we won. Everything we could possibly win, we won. Think about it.
It’s been just over twelve hours since Carles Puyol was given this trophy, and I still can’t stop smiling.
But, oh Great Gods of Football, it wasn’t easy and I’ll admit that, for a few moments during the match, I stopped believing. May Pep forgive me, because I doubted him. May Messi and Pedrito have mercy on my soul, because near the 80th minute I was philosophising about what positive effects (in the global economy or the preservation of whales) our loss could have.
And then it happened. But first things first, right?
Pep rolled out what looked like, at first sight, the shiny Starting XI of the great occasions: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Messi, Ibra and Henry.
‘What? No Pedrito?!” many people gasped on seeing this. ‘And no Yaya?’ a few of us grumbled, almost ready to give up on our battle for the DM position.
In the meanwhile, Alejandro Sabella, Estudiantes’ coach, brought out Albil, Rodríguez, Desábato, Cellay, Re, La Brujita Verón, Braña, Benítez, Díaz, Pérez and Boselli. Grim-faced, dressed in white, they looked all business.
And FIFA gifted us with Benito Archundia, a Mexican referee who had overseen the 2005 final between Sao Paulo and Liverpool. And damn, I usually try not to talk about referees, because they should be like mimes, seen but not heard, but this man deserves a mention
and a few other things besides.
We already knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. We had prepared ourselves for a tough, gritty match. But I don’t think we had really foreseen how much Estudiantes was going to invest in having the match their way. The pressure they put on our midfield was so great I was worried we’d have to get Xavi and Keita a bathyscaphe each. Come to think about it, even from inside a bathyscaphe Xavi would have done better than what he did in the 8th minute, when he found himself alone in front of Albil and missed a clear, clear opportunity in favour of crossing for no-one.
He wasn’t very clear-headed, our Xavi last night. Be it because he was having a bad day, be it because the marking from the Estudiantes midfield was enough to stifle Chuck Norris, he consistently missed passes that usually he wouldn’t. Keita, coming out of an injury to his ischiotibials, had to be taken out on a stretcher before five minutes of play were completed, and even though he returned, he couldn’t quite use his full speed (and is out for three weeks, medical exams confirmed this morning). And Busquets…
Actually, Busquets didn’t do a bad job of it. He was solid when he had to assist the defence and something almost akin to lively when he tried to move forwards. Perhaps the Estudiantes players read this blog and underestimated him just like me, because they didn’t mark him so much and at times he almost was the best thing we had going on in the midfield.
And here comes the first mention to the highly-esteemed Benito Archundia, the man who was invested with the duty to stop Estudiantes from showing the world how sharp and deadly their tackles could be. Minute 23 third of the match, Messi falls to the ground after a clear foul. The referee shows the yellow card. Oh, good, someone who is not going to allow defenders to kick Messi’s danger away… wait, what do you mean the card was to Messi? For diving?! There started the grumbles, and Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo started a quick poll on whether its readers felt it was fair that we got a Mexican referee after we had defeated Atlante not three days before.
And then, not ten minutes later, Xavi shook off his lethargy a little and ran at goal, only to be met by Albil’s knee in the box and fall to the floor. Clear penalty? Yes! Did Archundia think so? No! The Catalan newspapers were already running huge headlines of the type “Barça plays against 12!” and “The ref stole the Cup from Barça!”.
Well, referee antics asides, possession was ours, by over 60%, but we had just one measly shot on goal (the same as Estudiantes) when it happened.
Minute 36: a great cross and Boselli rose, sandwiched as he was between Puyol and Abidal, and headed the ball into the back of the net.
Estudiantes 1, Barça 0.
And, damn, this wasn’t like the semi-final against Atlante, where we also trailed one goal behind for a long time. We had the possession, but we were far from having the control of the match. Getting a draw looked extremely difficult, not to speak of winning. And there was no providential Busquets to score the equaliser before the half-time; Ibra and Leo both had their attempts swiftly countered by the stalwart Estudiantes defence.
The boys walked to the changing room in varying, but high, degrees of frustration. Clearly something had to be done.
‘Bring on Pedrito!’ called the masses. ‘Bring on Pedrito for Henry!’. Yes, Henry was playing. He wasn’t doing much, but he was there and since it was to his place on the Starting XI that Pedrito had been sacrificed, it seemed fitting that it was him who returned to the bench while our Man Boy of the Six Crucial Goals came to solve things.
And then Pep let the team back on the pitch and lo and behold, Pedrito was there! But, wait! So was Henry! And Ibra! And Leo! We should know better than to try and guess Pep’s ideas. A quick headcount was necessary to ascertain that Pedrito had come in to substitute Keita.
We were going to play 4-2-4. It looked dangerous (for us). And it was (for them).
Oh yes, the boys had realised we were losing and that something had to be done about it. The cranked up the rhythm and ignored the midfield completely to concentrate on attacking. Again and again.
And I don’t think that the expression ‘parked the bus’ is appropriate to express what Estudiantes was doing then. This went further than that. They were defending with nine men. Only Boselli stood as far back as the midfield, hoping for one of Verón or Benítez’s crosses and keeping Abidal company, since it was many a time that our Frenchman was the only man left behind as even Puyol and Piqué surged forwards. Every time Estudiantes had to do a throw in, they took almost two minutes to do it. If the ball got to Albil, you could be sure he would take almost a whole minute before he let go of it. They dropped like flies and took their own sweet time getting up. Latin-American football at its finest.
Albil was divine, denying chances to Ibrahimovic, Pedrito, Piqué, even Henry… it didn’t seem as if it was possible for a team to be attacking so much and getting so little out of it. We tried it from CKs, we tried it from mid-distance, we tried it by crossing into the box, we tried it in every possible way and still the scoreboard remained mockingly 0-1.
Clearly something had to be done about it. Bring on another striker! Henry was tired, why not change him?
And Pep nodded and we had a substitution. Yaya Touré for Sergi Busquets.
What? Why? Even I had to admit that Busi was doing it extremely well. And Henry was tired. What was Pep playing at? We were losing!
Three minutes later, Henry got a yellow for diving in front of the box (well deserved, I must admit, although half of Estudiantes should have gotten those as well), and finally Pep consented in bringing him out for Jeffren. Not that I wasn’t happy to see the kid, but it was surprising to say the least to see him making it into the final after not playing since Copa del Rey matches.
Five minutes left of the match. The scoreboard insisted in displaying that horrible 0-1. How many of you wanted to turn off the TV/stream? How many of you remembered Stamford Bridge? How many of you were thinking about the consequences of this defeat?
And then, Pedrito. After an assist, of sorts, by Piqué. In the 89th minute. Just in case your hair hadn’t turned white yet.
The shouting. The celebrations. The excitement. The ‘oh, wait, damn, we haven’t won yet’. The ‘you mean with this we only get to play half an hour more?’.
But things had changed. Estudiantes, for one, were absolutely exhausted, after the effort of holding back the barrage of Barça attacks of which the second half had consisted. You could see Verón, bathed in sweat, still trying so hard to get there, to make the move, but finding he couldn’t.
And with Yaya to keep away any possibility of an Estudiantes counterattack, and fresh enough to move forwards when he needed to, and with Jeffren doing wonders where Henry had been merely ordinary, it was a matter of time (and yes, a bit of luck) until it happened again.
But it did happen. And it was Leo Messi who made it happen. It was possibly not the most elegant goal of his career (although now the Spanish journalists are insisting he scored ‘with his heart’ or with ‘the Barça crest’), but he scored. From an Alves cross too low to try a header, Messi threw himself forwards and pushed the ball with his chest for it to bounce past Albil (according to the guys at the front page, he Supermanned it).
Ten minutes left. Ibra, Jeffren and Pedrito were still trying for the third, but it was Estudiantes who had the best chance to score, first with a CK that Valdés just managed to stop before the linier realised it was offsides, and then with a free kick which Desábato sent less than a handbreadth away from Valdés’ far post.
And then the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the match and it was ours.
Bronze Ball of the tournament to Xavi. Gold Ball of the tournament to Leo Messi. And the 2009 Club World Cup to FC Barcelona, to seal the end of a year that had brought more happiness to us culés than even the more optimistic of us could dream when we heard that Pep Guardiola had been signed as Barça’s coach (Ramzi has said it better than I ever could).
Pep cried. Watching him cry, I cried. Culés everywhere were muttering things like, ‘I can’t believe it’, ‘We’ve won, right?’ and ‘Six… six…’. Even stalwart more-Madridista-than-thou newspaper Marca had this to say about it:
I’m not going to grade the players this time. I’d probably give them all a 10 (well, except perhaps Henry).
But I’ll leave you with this, the commemorative shirt that players wore for the party after the match, here modelled by our very captain.
VISCA EL BARÇA!