Barcelona masterclass at Nelson Mandela Cup
The Spanish champions strut their stuff as late substitute Messi’s appearance has the 78,000-strong crowd on its feet
Barcelona flew in on Wednesday morning, beat Mamelodi Sundowns 3-1 in the Nelson Mandela Centenary Cup at FNB Stadium, and jetted out at midnight having left their indelible stamp of class on SA in a gala friendly match.
Lionel Messi appeased the crowd with a late substitute appearance, but it was the goals of Ousmane Dembele in the third minute, Luis Suarez in the 19th and Andre Gomes in the 67th that earned Barca victory.
Not that the result counted for much.
Sibusiso Vilakazi pulled a well-earned strike back for Sundowns in the 76th.
A 78,000-strong crowd sparkling with cellphone lights froze in an Arctic temperature, but were warmed by the spectacle of Barcelona on the pitch.
How much can one read into a virtual exhibition match that was sprung as a surprise as much on Sundowns and their coach Pitso Mosimane as it was on the Spanish champions?
Of course, very little. But it was definitely enjoyable watching Downs pit themselves against the global superstars of Barcelona, even in two completely changed mixed-strength XIs put out by Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde either side of halftime.
What could be learned from the end-to-end football — mostly in the direction of Denis Onyango in the Sundowns’ goal — was that Sundowns, as they found out at the 2016 Club World Cup, do not have a credible defence at this level. But they do have an attack that can trouble the best.
Sundowns’ nightmares in defence started from the third minute when Soumahoro Bangaly, known for such horrible blunders, passed the ball from in front of his area straight to Dembele. The France striker took the ball forward and, without having to think about it, cracked a finish past Onyango into the top left corner with a clinical finish.
That Sundowns would show skill and ingenuity in attack, and Percy Tau be central to that, was never in doubt.
The slight forward went one-on-one with Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but attempting a neat chip simply fed the Barcelona goalkeeper.
Just before 20 minutes Luis Suarez played a one-two with midfield namesake Denis Suarez to canter through the nonexistent defence.
The Uruguayan ace finished low past Onyango.
From Tau’s cross, Wayne Arendse got a head from a cluster of players that Ter Stegen tipped onto his bar. Dembele found space to lob Onyango, but Hlompho Kekana scrambled back to clear off the line.
Just before halftime, Dembele streaked past Bangaly and crossed for Denis Suarez to head onto the upright.
Tiyani Mabunda, from a Tau pass, struck the side netting.
Valverde brought all 11 of his 12 substitutes on after the break, except the one the crowd was baying for — Messi.
The occasion, and pace of thinking of their opponents, brought out schoolboy errors from Downs, such as when captain Kekana passed across his own box, but only found Ruiz de Galarreta to tee up Gomes for Barca’s third.
In the 74th minute Messi’s introduction raised the roof.
But it was Tau’s deft little ball through that put Vilakazi into the area to beat second-half Barca keeper Jasper Cillesen that elicited the evening’s biggest roar.