Spanish football giants Barcelona are finally making their way to Doha. It was a trip that was long in the making, but kept getting postponed. Since the time Qatar Airways tied up with Barcelona to become their shirt sponsor in 2013, the ‘Blaugranas’ were always expected to come to Qatar to play a match.
Tonight that will become a reality. One of the world’s best to have played the game, Lionel Messi will be in action at the Al Gharafa Stadium as he leads Barcelona to a ‘Match of Champions’ friendly against Saudi side Al Ahli at 7pm.
The teams are playing for the Qatar Airways Cup since they are both sponsored by the country’s national carrier. Usually friendlies are expected to be low-intensity affairs but with the fixture being a sell-out, about 25,000 supporters are expected to throng the stadium.
It’s no secret that all eyes will be on Messi. To see the Argentinian in flesh, with all his mesmerising skills, is one of the purest joys of watching football. But Barcelona are not just about Messi, with several stars in their line-up who can conjure up some magic of their own.
Their potent forward line popularly referred as ‘MSN’ has Messi partnering Uruguayan Luis Su?rez and Brazilian Neymar, both world class strikers in their own right. It will be interesting to see whether coach Luis Enrique will play them all together against Al Ahli.
Enrique is bringing a strong squad to Doha, with French defender Jérémy Mathieu the only absentee due to injury. But with an important match against Espanyol to be played on Sunday in the La Liga, where they trail leaders Real Madrid by six points, Enrique is expected to rotate his players during the match, which will have unlimited substitutions.
Barcelona arrived in Doha last night after a training session at their home base Ciutat Esportiva before their departure. The Catalans have never faced a team from Saudi Arabia before.
However, it will not be the first time Barcelona will be playing against a team from the GCC. The only time Barca faced a GCC team was when they took on Qatar’s Al Sadd in the 2011 Club World Cup in Yokohama. Barca won that game 4-0 win which took them into the final against Neymar’s Santos.
On the other hand, for Al Ahli players this will be a once-in-a-life opportunity to play against Barcelona. Al Ahli, coached by Swiss Christian Gross, are currently in third place in the Saudi Arabian first division.
The foreign imports in the squad are Mohamed Abdelshafi (Egypt), Luiz Carlos Martins (Brazil), Giannis Fetfazidis (Greece) and Omar al-Soma (Syria). Interestingly, Al Ain and UAE star Omar Abdulrahman will take the unusual step of playing for another Gulf club. The Asian player of the year, popularly known as Amoory has been given special permission by Al Ain to play for Al Ahli against Barca. The playmaker, who supports Barcelona and cites Andres Iniesta as his favourite player, will also use the trip for his annual medical check-up at the Aspire Academy.
Barcelona squad: Ter Stegen, Cillessen, Masip, Piqué, Rakitic, Busquets, Denis Su?rez, Arda, Iniesta, Luis Su?rez, Messi, Neymar Jr, Rafinha, Mascherano, Paco Alc?cer, Jordi Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, André Gomes, Aleix Vidal, Umtiti, Ale?? and Borja L?pez.
5:30pm: Performance from world champion freestyler Pawel Skora
5:50pm: Barcelona and Al-Ahli teams warm-up
6:25pm: Opening ceremony begins with the Pheonix Performance Group
6:45pm: Musical performance from special guest
7pm: ‘Match kick-off
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