Yokohama – Luis Suarez fired a hat-trick as Barcelona overcame the loss of Lionel Messi to kidney problems by beating China’s Guangzhou Evergrande 3-0 to reach the Club World Cup final on Thursday.
The Spanish giants will face Argentine side River Plate in Yokohama on Sunday as they look to become the first team to win the tournament three times.
The European champions were rocked before the semi-final when Messi was sidelined with renal colic — commonly caused by kidney stones — which could also rule him out of the final.
Initially Barca missed Messi’s wizardry and the guile of his Brazilian strike partner Neymar, who was rested as he recovers from a groin strain.
The Catalans toiled to break down Evergrande’s massed ranks of defenders, until Suarez pounced six minutes before half-time, poking in the loose ball after goalkeeper Li Shuai parried Ivan Rakitic’s fierce drive from the edge of the box.
The Uruguayan grabbed his second five minutes after the break when he latched onto a superb Andres Iniesta pass, bringing the ball down on his chest before volleying past Li to the delight of most in the crowd of 63,000.
Suarez completed his treble from the penalty spot in the 67th minute to record his 21st goal of the season for Barca, who previously won the Club World Cup in 2009 and 2011.
“We knew we were without the two most important players for the team, but all we could do was stay focused and try to reach the final,” said Suarez. “I hope (Messi) recovers as quickly as possible.
“We knew there was a big chance we would be playing against River,” added the former Liverpool forward. “They won the Copa Libertadores, they are one of the best teams in the Americas and we will have to play well to lift the cup.”
Suarez, Messi and Neymar have now plundered an astonishing 130 goals for Barca in 2015 — more than Spanish rivals Real Madrid.
Evergrande manager Luiz Felipe Scolari praised his players for their efforts after winning a fifth successive Chinese championship and their second Asian title in three years.
“I told my players I was very grateful for a wonderful year,” said the former Brazil coach. “We lost 3-0 to Barcelona but a lot of big teams have lost 3-0 to them, so there is no shame. Even without Messi and Neymar, Barcelona have so much quality.”