Luis Suarez fired a hat-trick as Barcelona overcame the loss of Lionel Messi to kidney trouble by beating China’s Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 on Thursday to reach the Club World Cup final.
The Spanish giants will face Argentine side River Plate in Yokohama on Sunday as they look to become the first team to win the competition three times.
“Luis Suarez is deadly inside the box, he will always score for you,” Barca coach Luis Enrique told reporters. “He’s a spectacular player.”
The European champions were rocked before the semi-final when Messi was sidelined with renal colic — commonly caused by kidney stones — which could also rule him out of the final.
Initially Barca missed Messi’s wizardry and the guile of his Brazilian strike partner Neymar, who was rested as he recovers from a groin strain.
“We don’t know if we’ll have Messi and Neymar for the final,” Enrique said when quizzed about his two superstars.
But Messi refused to rule himself out, posting on his Facebook page: “Great job from the whole team, we’re in the final! It’s never fun to miss any game, but I hope to get better to be able to help in the final.”
The Catalans toiled to break down Evergrande’s massed ranks of defenders, until Suarez pounced six minutes before half-time, poking in a loose ball after goalkeeper Li Shuai parried Ivan Rakitic’s fierce drive from the edge of the box.
The Uruguayan grabbed his second five minutes after the break when he latched onto a superb Andres Iniesta pass, bringing the ball down on his chest before volleying past Li to the delight of most in the crowd of 63,000.
– Goal glut –
Suarez completed the first-ever Club World Cup treble from the penalty spot in the 67th minute to record his 21st goal of the season for Barca, who previously won the Club World Cup in 2009 and 2011.
“We knew we were without the two most important players for the team, but all we could do was stay focused and try to reach the final,” said Suarez. “I hope (Messi) recovers as quickly as possible.
“We knew there was a big chance we would be playing against River,” added the former Liverpool forward. “They won the Copa Libertadores, they are one of the best teams in the Americas and we will have to play well to lift the cup.”
Suarez, Messi and Neymar have now plundered an astonishing 130 goals for Barca in 2015. But Enrique also praised his captain Iniesta.
“Andres dominated our combination play and he knows how to dribble and turn like no one else,” he said. “We were very disciplined. It was a complete display.”
Barca technical director Robert Fernandez insisted no risks would be taken over Messi.
“Leo is not right,” he said. “We will see how he is in the night, how his symptoms develop tomorrow and see if he is fit to play the next game.”
Evergrande manager Luiz Felipe Scolari thanked his players for their efforts after winning a fifth successive Chinese championship and their second Asian title in three years.
“I told my players I was grateful for a wonderful year,” said the former Brazil coach. “We lost 3-0 to Barcelona but a lot of big teams have lost 3-0 to them, so there is no shame.” – Agence France-Presse