Barca Club World Cup bid could prove costly

Barcelona, while red-hot favourites to win their second Club World Cup in three years, know the 20,000-kilometre round trip to Japan and back could come at a heavy cost.

Locked in a tooth-and-nail battle with Real Madrid in La Liga, Barca face their bitter rivals in next weekend's 'Clasico' before immediately jetting off to the Far East.

The European champions join the December 8-18 Club World Cup at the semi-final stage along with Brazil's Santos, winners of South America's Libertadores Cup.

Japan's Kashiwa Reysol, who won their first J-League title at the weekend, take on Auckland City in the opening game of the seven-team FIFA competition on Thursday.

But Barcelona's collection of big-name players, led by Argentina's Lionel Messi, will be expected to lift the trophy - even if it turns out to be fool's gold.

Real Madrid lead Barca by three points at the top of La Liga, with a game in hand over Pep Guardiola's side heading into a potentially bruising encounter at the Bernabeu this Saturday.

A side boasting Spanish World Cup winners Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas should still have enough in the tank to win in Japan.

"We'll need to adapt quickly," Fabregas told fifa.com. "It will be a long journey with time zone complications involved and we go into a tough game with very little time to prepare."

Barcelona, who beat Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley in May to win their fourth European Cup, face either Qatar's Al Sadd or Tunisian club Esperance on December 15 in Yokohama.

The long-haul flight and quick turnaround after returning could take its toll on the Spaniards.

"This is Barcelona," added Fabregas. "We're obliged to win every game. It's what people expect. That makes it mandatory for us and we have to deliver."

Santos, who captured their third Libertadores Cup in June, almost 50 years after Pele inspired them to back-to-back titles in 1962 and 1963, could prove formidable opponents.

Barring shock defeats in their respective semi-finals, Barcelona will be casting envious eyes at prolific young striker Neymar, instrumental in his side's Libertadores triumph.

The Catalan giants are among several European clubs to have offered a fortune for Neymar but the 19-year-old pin-up recently signed a new deal to stay with Santos until 2014.

"There was a lot of talk about a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid," said Xavi. "But he is staying at Santos. He will become a great player. He has amazing ability."

TURBULENT YEAR

The Club World Cup will come as a welcome distraction for embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter after a turbulent year and growing calls for his resignation.

A corruption scandal led to his unopposed re-election before Blatter sparked outrage last month by saying racist abuse on the pitch should be settled by a handshake after the game.

For the lesser-known teams, however, the Club World Cup offers a rare and lucrative chance to mix it with some of the game's best players.

"For a small amateur team like ours, it's going to take something absolutely out of the ordinary to get any kind of result," said Auckland captain Ivan Vicelich.

While the tournament has faced criticism for the level of competition, Esperance will relish the long trip after a year of political turmoil and a revolution in Tunisia.

The African champions face Al Sadd, who defied the odds to beat Jeonbuk Motors on a penalty shootout in the Asian Champions League final.

Esperance play Al Sadd on December 11, the same day that Mexico's Monterrey face the winner of the tournament curtain raiser for the right to meet Santos in the semi-finals.

Kashiwa should emerge victorious from that match but stranger things have happened, Auckland producing two upset wins at the 2009 Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.


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