OSAKA (Reuters) – Barcelona defender Gerard Pique made all the right noises about the Club World Cup on Wednesday, describing the tournament as enjoyable and prestigious, ahead of their semi-final against China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.
Pique also warned that the Asian champions, coached by Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, may try to disrupt Barcelona’s game with tactical fouling in Thursday’s match in Yokohama.
The competition, featuring the six continental club champions plus a team from the host nation, draws little interest in Europe but Pique dismissed suggestions it was just a mid-season excursion for the European champions.
“The world club championship is a very prestigious competition,” Pique told a news conference in Yokohama. “These are unique opportunities which history gives you.
“It’s enjoyable, you live new experiences, and get to know different cultures and ways of understanding football. It’s good at a professional level.”
No European team have failed to reach the final of the tournament since it started in its current form in 2005 and Barcelona are runaway favourites to win the title for a third time.
Former Brazil and Portugal coach Scolari, however, revels in knockout competitions and is a master in the art of spoiling tactics.
“I imagine they will try to use any method they can to stop us and disrupt our style of play,” said Pique. “One way of doing this is by committing fouls.”
Earlier, Scolari said he did not expect Barcelona to be weakened by the absence of Brazilian forward Neymar, who is injured.
“Neymar is one of the best three players in the world and has kept on progressing over the course of the last five years. But Barcelona have 25 or 26 players of a similar standard,” he said.
Guangzhou were beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich when they reached the semi-final two years ago under Marcello Lippi, but Scolari was confident of a good result.
“We are getting better day by day and I’m very grateful to my players. We are aware of our own qualities and Barcelona’s qualities. My players are very motivated and intelligent. We will give a good performance.
“We will not do anything special. We are the champions of Asia and we have to be motivated.
“How many teams in the world would want to be in our position today? That is the greatest motivation.”
(By Brian Homewood, Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)