Champions in 2009, three times UEFA Champions League winners and widely regarded as one of the best teams in history, it’s hard to see Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona not winning the World Club Cup.
But African side TP Mazembe’s exploits in reaching last year’s final show anything is possible in this tournament, especially when held in the same Yokohama Stadium that saw Japan reach the 2001 Confederations Cup Final and win their first-ever World Cup game.
The hosts have again been providing the early-round upsets with unseeded Kashiwa Reysol defeating OFC representatives Auckland City and Mexican’s Monterrey to reach the first semi-final against Santos.
In the other half, Asian Champions League winners Al-Sadd beat Africa’s Esperance Tunis to earn the dubious honour of being Barcelona’s first opponents.
Here’s a look at the best bets in both semi-finals and in the overall market.
Semi-Final 1: Kashiwa Reysol v Santos
The South Americans come in as big favourites at 67/100 in bwin’s 3Way football betting market, with another Kashiwa upset at 15/4 and the draw at 11/4. If the Japanese side show the same defensive discipline that’s seen them concede just once then it will be a tight game. However, the likes of flamboyant striker Neymar and ex-Man City star Elano should have enough to break them down eventually, making a 1-0 Santos win at 11/1 the best way to go.
Semi-Final 2: Al-Sadd v Barcelona
As with every game they play, the Catalans start as favourites, with bwin offering 1/20 for their 64th win in all competitions this year. Despite investing heavily in the likes of Brazilian Leandro and former Marseille striker Mamadou Niang, Al-Sadd (30/1 to win the tie) don’t look the side to stop Barca’s run as they currently sit sixth in their domestic league. Back Messi and co at 13/10 to post another big score and overcome a 3-0 handicap with their 24th win this year of 4-0 or more.
That would leave a Santos-Barcelona final in which recent history would suggest the Brazilians have a better chance of beating Barca than most teams.
South American sides have won two-thirds of previous WCC finals played in Yokohama, while Barca were beaten in their only previous final there by another Brazilian team, Internacional, in 2006.
Brazilian players will also be likely to enjoy the conditions more, as evidenced by the Selecao winning the the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. And for the players alongside star turns Neymar and playmaker Ganso, it’s the chance to establish their own reputations and possibly earn a lucrative move to Europe.
So while it’s hard to look past Barca – especially considering Guardiola has confirmed that he will be taking the competition seriously – backing Santos to lift the trophy could prove the more lucrative and ultimately rewarding punt.
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