YOKOHAMA, Japan – Lionel Messi just keeps winning.
The dynamic Argentine continued his favorite pastime by netting a pair of scores to lead FC Barcelona to a 4-0 win over Brazil’s Santos at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Messi has guided the Spanish club to two Club World Cups in the past three seasons and adds more credibility to his bid for a third-straight FIFA Player of the Year award.
“I’m excited about winning this title because we wanted to become the best in the world,” Messi told reporters. “I’m happy about my goals but, more than that, I am happy with the performance of the team.”
Messi, who already has 29 goals this season after notching a stunning 55 last year, opened the scoring against Santos in the 17th minute. The striker collected a through ball from Xavi that he switched to his left foot before chipping a shot over Santos goalkeeper Rafael Cabral. The Argentine star also concluded the scoring in the 82nd minute when he deposited the ball into the far corner of the net en route to being named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” FC Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fábregas told reporters. “Santos made it difficult at the beginning but we were fortunate to score quickly and then another one a few minutes later. If you say it was easy it’s because we played a very serious game and were very professional and disciplined and that made it look easy.”
Brazilian star Neymar, who had previously been linked to a transfer to Barcelona, had the best chance for Santos with a breakaway against goalkeeper Víctor Valdés in the second half, but his shot was smothered.
“Barcelona deserved to win,” Neymar told reporters. “They are the best team in the world and we learned an important lesson tonight. We showed our potential and hopefully we will be able to come back and win this tournament.”
Barcelona claimed the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup with a 2-1 victory over Argentine side Estudiantes thanks to a game-winning goal by Messi. No South American team has topped the competition since Brazil’s Internacional topped FC Barcelona in 2006.
“The team was up for it and so was I,” Messi told reporters. “I scored against Estudiantes in the 2009 final, I was on target against Manchester United in the Champions League final and I scored again today. I like these types of games.”
América de Cali relegated in Colombia
The soccer team is among the top clubs in the country, but its run of bad luck and heartbreaking playoff loss caused América de Cali to plummet into the Categoría Primera B next season.
The Red Devils had one final chance to save themselves from relegation but suffered a 5-4 loss on penalties to Patriotas, the Categoria Primera B champions, to complete a nightmare season.
América de Cali broke a tie early in the second half with a striker Jairo Castillo to make the score 2-1, but Patriotas knotted the game minutes later to set the stage for the dramatic conclusion.
América de Cali is tied with Millonarios with 13 all-time league titles and was runner-up in the Copa Libertadores each year from 1985 to 1987.
Besides the embarrassment of defeat, the relegation could also spark a handful of moves. Up-and-coming América de Cali goaltender Diego Restrepo reportedly is exploring his options at joining a Major League Soccer (MLS) squad such as the Philadelphia Union or Chivas USA. Several other Colombian sides also expressed interest in acquiring the young national.
“The leaders of América commented that Philadelphia called me to ask how my situation was a while ago,” Restrepo told reporters. “And recently someone came over from Chivas USA. But nothing concrete, I have nothing signed with anybody. I have said I want to stay in América because I owe a lot, because I opened the door, because it is a big club. All that must be analyzed.”
América de Cali manager Wilson Piedrahita also hinted the team would try to reacquire FC Dallas midfielder and former MLS MVP David Ferreira, a native of Santa Marta, Colombia.
“I’m tracking him down because he’s here on vacation and he wants to come,” Piedrahita told reporters. “I asked someone to speak to Ferreira because Ferreira wants to return and he’s an impressive player and he’s a player I’d be interested in getting.”
Eduardo Vargas heading to Italy
Eduardo Vargas is headed across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Chilean striker confirmed this week he agreed to a US$17.70 million (€13.6 million) with Italian side Napoli. Vargas, 22, had starred the past few seasons for Universidad de Chile but opted to make the move to Europe and join fellow South Americans Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi with Napoli.
“I’m sure I'll do very well there,” he told reporters. “I already know Cavani and Lavezzi. I am very happy that everything was tied up quickly, and for me to play in Italy is a dream come true.”
Vargas burst onto the international scene during this year’s Copa Sudamericana when he led the competition in scoring with 11 goals. The deal also is the richest-ever for someone playing in Chile, topping the deal Colo Colo’s Arturo Vidal signed with Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen in 2007.