YOKOHAMA, Japan, December 18 – Lionel Messi grabbed a classy brace as the “artists” of Barcelona out-classed the Brazilians Santos 4-0 to lift the Club World Cup Sunday and confirm their status as the best team on the planet.
The clash between the European and South American champions in Japan had been billed as a showdown between Messi, widely acknowledged as the best player in the world, and 19-year-old Brazilian sensation Neymar.
In the event, it was no contest — either between the two supreme talents or their teams — as Barcelona picked up their second world crown after winning the competition in 2009.
Barca boss Pep Guardiola called his men “artists” and dedicated the 13th title in his three-and-a-half years in charge to striker David Villa, who flew home after fracturing his shin in the semi-final and faces months out.
“We missed him very much. I talked to him a lot (since the bad injury) and I want to talk to him tonight,” said Guardiola, full of praise for his side who wore t-shirts in honour of their missing team-mate.
“They were like artists,” he said, turning to their spectacular performance. “What was envisioned in their minds happened on the pitch.”
Messi, set up by Xavi, got the first after 17 minutes, before Xavi put Barcelona 2-0 up just seven minutes later to put them firmly in control, as prodigious forward Neymar struggled to get a sniff of the ball.
Cesc Fabregas, who pulled the strings in midfield, got the third on the stroke of half-time as the Spanish champions, who were at full-strength, threatened to run riot for the full house of 68,166.
Messi got his second eight minutes from time as he rounded the keeper to roll the ball in after the influential Dani Alves threaded the ball through to him.
“We are extremely happy and our performance, especially in the first-half, was very satisfactory,” said Guardiola, who declined to single out one player for more praise than the rest.
“I’ve tried to get the players to work together as a team and use the strengths they have. Our players have been playing very well, but it’s important to keep that level going.”
His opposite number Muricy Ramalho said there was no disgrace despite the heavy defeat.
“Barcelona have played various teams around the world and nobody can beat them. Eventually some team may, but I don’t think it’s possible now,” he said.
“This was not embarrassing and it was not a blow to us. We need to be humble — we were beaten by the best team in the world,” he said, adding Messi was without doubt the best but that Neymar would one day take that title.
Barca had the better of an open first 15 minutes, Messi forcing a save out of Rafael Cabral after skipping a couple of half-hearted Santos challenges.
Shortly after that the Argentine was at it again, taking a dinked pass from Xavi and lifting the ball delicately over Cabral from just a few yards out to put the Catalans into an early lead at the International Stadium in Yokohama.
It was all Barca, so it was no surprise when they went further ahead on 24 minutes, full-back Alves driving down the right wing and cutting inside to set up Xavi, who rifled the ball past an exposed Cabral.
Television cameras quickly focused on a glum-looking Neymar.
Still Barca and Messi kept coming. On 26 minutes he was denied by a terrific last-gasp tackle when through on goal, and three minutes later Fabregas struck Cabral’s post after he was set up by Xavi.
Fabregas and Barca would not be denied, as the former Arsenal man grabbed the third just before half-time after more good link-up play — including an audacious back-heel — from the irrespressible Messi.
Less than a minute after the restart they should have gone 4-0 up when Fabregas, set up by Messi, saw his prodded effort on the run saved by Cabral, then Neymar went up the other end and headed over when he should have scored.
Belatedly, the Brazilian side were up for it after Ramalho had sent them out onto the frigid pitch well ahead of their opponents.
Neymar should have found the net when clean through on goal just before the hour, but Victor Valdes saved well with his legs. It summed up the teenager’s night.
Messi put the gloss on a polished performance from him and his side as he showed trademark deft footwork to dance around Cabral and walk the ball in.
Earlier, Al Sadd, who lost 4-0 to Barcelona in the semi-finals, beat Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol 5-3 on penalties to take third place at the annual intercontinental tournament.