Andy Mitten

Barca enjoying quiet after storm

Andy Mitten

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Carles Puyol was sent to buy tickets for the Tokyo underground. He can't speak English, certainly not Japanese and many Spaniards struggle to decipher his thick Catalan accent, formed in the Pyrenean foothills where he grew up, so it's not known how he managed to communicate with a Japanese ticket vendor. But he did and 10 minutes later he was enjoying a ride on Tokyo's vast suburban rail system with Andres Iniesta and other team-mates.

Fellow commuters on the train didn't recognise Barca's captain, nor the pasty faced Manchegan who scored the winning goal in the last World Cup final. And that's exactly how the players will like it. There are few places on the planet where they would not be immediately recognised, gawped at or pestered, so they enjoy the experience of living life as a 'normal' person, struggling for a seat on a rickety train and generally behaving like giddy fifth formers on a school trip.

That's not to say that Barca are not known in Japan. Around 2,000 fans were waiting for the team to arrive at Narita on Sunday and their team hotel has been besieged, but maybe those fans weren't expecting the players to ride on the metro from Yokohama into neighbouring Tokyo.

Barca are in Tokyo for the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup. It's back in the world's biggest metropolis after two years in Abu Dhabi and the Catalans headed east in the early hours of Sunday morning from Madrid, still celebrating their 3-1 Clasico win.

They were out of Spain before the following day's newspapers had hit the newsstand, with headlines like 'HEROES!' in the Catalan-based daily Sport. That's the paper which gave every Barca player a rating of 10/10 for their efforts in the Bernabeu, while Madrid averaged 4.6 and Cristiano Ronaldo got a paltry four.

Don't expect objectivity when it comes to Madrid in Sport, but, and not for the first time, Ronaldo went missing against Barca. The man who is seen as the only challenger to Lionel Messi's status as the best player in the world fluffed free-kicks, missed two clear chances and was whistled at by his own fans who accused him of being selfish.

This was the game, don't forget, when Real Madrid were supposed to reassert their Spanish hegemony and set a marker for the rest of football. Jose Mourinho's table toppers were to show their improved quality and increased confidence, beat Barcelona at home, then move into a six point lead at the top of the Primera Liga with a game in hand.

Barca may be the reigning Spanish and European champions, but Madrid were favourites among those in the know. All good things have to come to an end and Barça's cycle, we were told, was coming to a close. Ronaldo was ready to prove his worth as the top footballer on the planet.

When Madrid took the lead in the opening minute, the naysayers looked to be on the money. But they were wrong.

Barca hit back in devastating fashion as they showed that they are far from finished. It wasn't the vintage Barça of last season's 5-0 rout, but that was a once in a lifetime performance. Instead, they made an excellent Madrid side look average.

Barca didn't change their game when they were behind. Alexis Sanchez, Andres Iniesta, Victor Valdes and Daniel Alves were peerless, and while Messi was often frustrated and didn't enjoy his best performance, he set up Barça's equaliser.

Barca remained true to their footballing philosophy which has brought them so much success. It paid off, they scored two more and an hour later were dancing the Bernabéu dressing room as if they had just won another trophy. They'll actually have a very good chance of winning some more silverware, their fifth trophy of 2011, in Tokyo this week, starting with Wednesday's semi-final against the Qatari side Al Sadd.

The winners will face the victors in the tie between Santos, the Brazilian side who won the 2011 Copa Liberatadores and include Neymar as their star, and J League winners Kashiwa Reysol, in Sunday's final in Yokohama. Given all the blanket publicity which will accompany Barca's next few days, Iniesta and Puyol might want to skip another trip on the metro after that one.

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