YOKOHAMA: Guangzhou Evergrande coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has warned Barcelona to expect a battle in Thursday’s Club World Cup semifinals in Yokohama.
“Barcelona are one of the best teams on the planet, everybody knows that,” the Brazilian told reporters on Wednesday. “But my players have the heart and the desire to make a game of it and I expect them to show that tomorrow.”
Barca forward Neymar is likely to miss the clash with a groin strain but Scolari insisted the Brazilian’s absence would make little difference.
“Neymar is one of the top three players in the world,” said the former Brazil coach, whose Evergrande side upset Mexico’s Club America 2-1 in the quarterfinals at the weekend.
“He has the potential to be the best player in the world in the next five years but Barcelona have 25 Neymars. They have quality in every position.
“They have [Lionel] Messi, [Luis] Suarez, [Andres] Iniesta, the list goes on — players who can hurt you everywhere,” he added. “It will be a huge challenge but one we relish.”
Scolari, known as “Big Phil” in his native Brazil, has fond memories of Yokohama, having led this country to their fifth World Cup triumph here in 2002 when they beat Germany 2-0 in the finals.
“When we arrived on the bus today I had some nice flashbacks to that time,” said Scolari. “It’s a place which has great significance for Brazil. But that chapter of my life is over so let’s see what happens.”
No reason to be nervous
Scolari compared Barca’s devastating ‘MSN’ strike-force of Messi, Suarez and Neymar to his 2002 trio Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.
“It’s hard to say which attack was better,” said the 67-year-old. “But Barcelona’s MSN is absolutely world-class. Clearly we will have our hands full.”
Scolari will hope Brazilians Paulinho, scorer of a dramatic late winner to break Mexican hearts, and Robinho, the former Real Madrid striker, can spark against a Barca side who have drawn their last three games.
“I don’t need to say anything to my players to give them any extra motivation,” insisted Scolari. “They’ve won the Chinese league, the Asian Champions League and beat Club America in our first game in Japan. That’s all the motivation they need.”
Evergrande captain Zheng Zhi promised that the Chinese would not be intimidated by their illustrious opponents.
“We have been looking forward to this game,” said the veteran midfielder. “We just want to go out and enjoy it, and learn from it. We don’t fear them and we have no reason to be nervous.
“We will put our heart and soul into it,” he added. “Barcelona are a fantastic side but we will be ready. We want to go out and play to our potential and see what happens.”
Argentina’s River Plate was playing Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Wednesday’s first semifinals in Osaka.