Club Estudiantes de La Plata v Barcelona, FIFA Club World Cup final, December 19, 2009
The one game that everyone expected in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup final, and the lone match of the tournament that will be worth watching, has materialised as Estudiantes and Barcelona slug it out to be named the worldâ€™s best team.
Copa Libertadores holders Estudiantes are major underdogs against the all-conquering Barcelona side but the Argentineans are used to being second favourites. After drawing the first leg of the final 0-0 against Cruzeiro of Brazil, it looked as if Estudiantes would struggle but they pulled off a 2-1 win in the second leg at the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.
No preview of Estudiantes is complete without an in-depth profile of the player everybody knows: former Manchester United and Chelsea flop Juan Sebastian Veron. The 34-year-old schemer is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father Juan Roman Veron, who scored in the Intercontinental Cup final win over Manchester United in 1968, in what is remembered as a brutal couple of games.
Veronâ€™s performance will be closely watched by Diego Maradona who will be eager to see how the deep lying midfielder gets on against Europeâ€™s finest as a preview of what he could do at the World Cup in the summer. Like all of Barcelonaâ€™s opponents, the problem for Veron and his team mates will be how to get the ball off the Catalan giants.
Besides Veron, the rest of the Estudiantes team are not well known in Europe. Winger Leandro Benitez was the match winner with a brace against Pohang Steelers in the semi-final and lone striker Mauro Boselli is sure to be a handful for Puyol and co at the back.
Defensive midfielder Rodrigo Brana will be tasked with winning the ball off the Barcelona â€œcarouselâ€ (Sir Alex Ferguson) and central defenders German Re and Leandro Desabato will be tasked with stopping Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Despite having a lot longer to prepare for this tournament, Estudiantes have been significantly weakened since winning the Copa Libertadores with players such as Pablo Piatti, Rolando Schiavi and Mariano Andujar all leaving the club for Europe.
Barcelona responded to Atlanteâ€™s early goal in the semi-final by responding with three of their own to ram home the fact it would be a major surprise if they didnâ€™t claim another trophy in Abu Dhabi. Pedro, arguably their best player of the season, received the plaudits for the third goal which set a new record – the first player to score in six different competitions.
Andres Iniesta, who set up Pedroâ€™s goal with some trademark trickery, will miss the match with a thigh injury. Lionel Messi was introduced as a second half substitute in the win over the Mexicans due to an ankle injury. If the Argentine trickster does start, Pep Guardiola will have to shuffle his pack a little but he has plenty of options with Seydou Keita and Thierry Henry two unused substitutes on Wednesday night.
Pep Guardiolaâ€™s side have now won nine of their last ten matches and have not lost since the surprise Champions League defeat to Rubin Kazan in October. On this run the Catalan giants have beaten the champions of Italy (Inter Milan) and the other best team in Spain (Real Madrid). The injury to the gloriously talented Iniesta gives Estudiantes a glimmer of hope but having been weakened since winning the Copa Libertadores it will take a major rearguard action from the Argentines and a huge dose of luck to prevent Barcelona being crowned the best team in world football.
101gg predicts: Estudiantes 0 â€“ Barcelona 2 (15/2)