Barca’s FNB masterclass
Dembele, Suarez, Gomes on song in thriller against Downs
Barcelona flew in in the morning, beat Mamelodi Sundowns 3-1 in the Nelson Mandela Centenary Cup at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, and jetted out in the evening, having left their indelible stamp of class on South Africa in last night’s fantastically fun friendly.
If this match were a movie, it would not have won an Oscar, but it was as frenetic and wildly entertaining as any one of The Fast and the Furious series, one to 35.
Lionel Messi appeased the crowd with a late substitute appearance, but it was the goals of Ousmane Dembele in the third minute, Luis Suarez in the 19th, and Andre Gomes in 67th that earned Barca victory.
Not that the result counted for much.
Sibusiso Vilakazi pulled a wellearned strike back for Sundowns in the 76th.
A 78 800 crowd at an FNB Stadium sparkling with cellphone lights froze in an Arctic temperature, but was warmed by the spectacle of Barcelona on the pitch, slugging it out with Sundowns.
How much can one read into a virtual exhibition match that Barcelona flew into in the morning, flew out of straight after the game, and that was sprung as a surprise as much on Sundowns and their coach Pitso Mosimane as it was on Barca?
Of course very little.
But it was definitely enjoyable watching Downs pit themselves against the global superstars of Barcelona, even in two completely changed mixed-strength XIs put out by Barca coach Ernesto Valverde either side of half time.
What could be learnt from the end-to-end football – mostly in the direction of Denis Onyango in Sundowns’ goal, but the other way too – was that Downs, as they found out at the 2016 Club World Cup, do not have a credible defence at this level.
But they do have an attack that can trouble the best.
Sundowns’ nightmares in defence started from the third minute when Soumahoro Bangaly – known for such horrible blunders – passed the ball from in front of his area straight to Dembele.
The France star took the ball forward and, without having to think about it, cracked a finish past Onyango into the top-left corner with a clinical level at which a PSL striker could salivate.
That Sundowns would show skill and ingenuity in attack, and Percy Tau be central to that, was never in doubt.
The little forward went one-on-one with Marc-Andre ter Stegen but, attempting a chip simply fed the Barca goalkeeper.
Just before 20 minutes, Luis Suarez played a one-two with midfield namesake Denis Suarez to canter through the non-existent defence.
The Uruguayan ace finished low past Onyango.
From Tau’s cross, Wayne Arendse got a header from a cluster of players that Ter Stegen tipped onto his bar.
Dembele was clear to lob Onyango, Hlompho Kekana scrambling back to clear off the line.
Towards the end of the half Dembele only had to turn on the pace to streak past Bangaly, and crossed for Denis Suarez to head onto the upright.
Tiyani Mabunda, from a Tau pass, struck into the side-netting.
Valverde brought all 11 of his 12 substitutes on after the break, except the one the crowd was baying for, Messi.
The occasion, and pace of thinking of their opponents, brought out schoolboy errors from Downs, such as when captain Kekana passed across his own box and only found Ruiz de Galarreta to tee up Gomes for Barca’s third.
In the 74th, Messi’s eventual introduction raised the FNB roof.
But it was Tau’s deft little ball through that put Vilakazi into the area to beat second-half Barca keeper Jasper Cillesen that brought out the evening’s biggest roar.