Barca bank on Messi winning gene

ABU DHABI - Lionel Messi's match-winning gene can inspire European champions Barcelona to victory over Estudiantes in the Club World Cup final on Saturday, according to the Spanish side's coach Pep Guardiola.

Barcelona are clear favourites to become world club champions at the third attempt and deny Libertadores Cup holders Estudiantes their second title and first since they beat Manchester United in 1968.

"He carries in his blood a competitive gene, to be the best, the settle matches," Guardiola said after Barcelona came from a goal down to beat Atlante of Mexico in the semi-final with Messi scoring the second goal two minutes after coming on as a substitute.

Messi, an injury doubt before the match against the CONCACAF champions, is almost certain to start against the Argentine team with midfielder Andres Iniesta ruled out due to a thigh muscle injury.

The South American champions' coach Alejandro Sabella has been working hard in training to prepare his team to counter Barcelona's superior passing game with both fullbacks being groomed to control Messi.

"They're a team without weaknesses because everyone looks for them and apparently can't find them because they keep on winning," Sabella said with a wry grin after Estudiantes's 2-1 semi-final win over eight-man Pohang Steelers of South Korea.

Atlante's coach Jose Guadalupe Cruz said: "Barcelona are playing with a style that's unique. We were prepared but maybe their speed was a bit superior to ours and in the end we were overcome."


He was referring as much to their speed of thought as body. Barcelona are so confident in their game that they never appear flustered, continuing to play their football even when the goals do not follow.

Atlante goalkeeper and captain called it "patience with wisdom" while Barca striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic said there was a lot of hard work involved.

"Not many teams can play like we play. We make our opponents run a lot, we make them tired, we make it easier for each other (of us)," the Swede said.

Cruz found a weakness in the Barcelona defence which his team exploited to take a shock early lead when Vilar booted the ball deep into their half and Guillermo Rojas chased it, lobbed Victor Valdes and scored.

"Perhaps there's a weakness. The defence play square too close to the halfway line. We surprised them (with long balls over the top) but lacked finishing," Cruz said on Wednesday.

Estudiantes captain Juan Sebastian Veron, a master of the carefully weighted long pass forward, is expected to try and exploit this perceived weakness.

About 5,000 Estudiantes fans, including two who were at Old Trafford for the team's 1968 crowning, have made the trip to Abu Dhabi while Barcelona, who lost the 1992 and 2006 finals, will enjoy most neutral support in an expected 45,000 capacity crowd at Zayed Sports City.

The closing day's double-header begins with Asian champions Pohang Steelers meeting Atlante for third place.