Barcelona aiming for 3rd Club World Cup title

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, left, duels for the ball Valencia's Danilo Barbosa during a Spanish La Liga soccer match. (Alberto Saiz/AP)

TOKYO — Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez spearhead Barcelona‘s attempt to win a third Club World Cup title when the European champions arrive in Japan next week.

Luis Enrique’s squad will play its first game on Dec. 17 in Yokohama, just five days after hosting Deportivo La Coruna in the Spanish league.

The tournament begins on Thursday in Yokohama. Barcelona and Copa Libertadores winner River Plate are favourites to reach the Dec. 20 final.

Barcelona won the tournament in 2009 and 2011 and the Spanish league leaders are clear favourites to continue Europe’s domination.

The tournament, which features the top clubs from FIFA’s six continental confederations plus the champion of the host country, returns to Japan for the first time since 2012. It was hosted in Morocco the previous two years.

Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano began his career at River Plate.

“It’s a very important tournament for us,” Mascherano said. “Everyone assumes that we and River Plate are the favourites to reach the final, but we’ve got to play our semifinals first.”

Oceania representative Auckland City is returning to the tournament for the seventh time. Auckland begins its campaign on Thursday against Japanese champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Mexico’s Club America is representing CONCACAF and faces Asian champion Guangzhou Evergrande on Sunday in Osaka.

African champion TP Mazembe takes the winner of the Auckland City-Sanfrecce Hiroshima match on Sunday.

Barcelona and River Plate enter the tournament at the semifinal stage.

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