Barcelona target sixth cup of 2009

The Catalans' tilt at a clean sweep of trophies begins today in Abu Dhabi
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The Independent Football

Barcelona's quest for a sixth title in 2009 begins today when they take on Atlante in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

Last season Barça became the first La Liga team to win the treble of league, cup and European Cup, and Pep Guardiola's team added two further trophies at the start of this campaign, winning the European and Spanish Super Cups.

Two more victories in the United Arab Emirates this week would give the Catalan club the set, with the Mexican side providing the first hurdle tomorrow, then their opponenst in the final will be the Copa Libertadores champions Estudiantes who beat AFC Champions League winners Pohang Steelers 2-1 on Monday.

Aside from completing an unforgettable year on a high note, Barça will also be desperate to do well in Abu Dhabi to make up for the disappointment of their appearance in the competition in 2006. Then, Barça lost to the Brazilian side Internacional de Porto Alegre in the final after going down to an 82nd-minute goal from Adriano.

The Barça midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who played in that match, told El Mundo Deportivo: "To close 2009 with the sixth title would be something fantastic. We are highly motivated and this time we are not going to let it escape."

Another Barça player who will be desperately hoping for successful trip to the UAE is their young winger Pedro Rodriguez, although for more personal reasons. Prior to August, Pedro had not struck a senior goal for the Catalans, but he could enter the record books this week as the first player to score in six different competitions in a season having already scored in La Liga, Champions League, Copa del Rey and the two Super Cups over the last five months.

"For me it would be a perfect year, as well as for the whole team," said the 22-year-old Canary Islander. "We are in the midst of a good period and hopefully our good run can continue and we can claim the title. We are looking forward to it and, if I can get a goal, then even better."

Barça go into the competition on the back of one of the best starts to a league season in their history, with Saturday's 1-0 derby success over Espanyol leaving them with 12 victories and three draws from their opening 15 games – equalling the unbeaten run set by the team in the 1984-85 season.

That success has also left Guardiola's team with a five-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid in La Liga, although Barça have played a game more due to their Club World Cup commitments this week.

The big doubt for Barça heading into today's game is the fitness of Ballon d'Or winner, the Argentine Lionel Messi, who has been struggling with injury and has been undergoing individual training this week.

Atlante are underdogs but go into the match on the back of a 3-0 defeat of Auckland City in the quarter-finals on Saturday. Atlante's Argentine winger Santiago Solari, the former Real and Atletico Madrid player, admits his side could be in for a tough time.

"There's a group of teams that stand out at the end of the decade. It's not just that they've been the best team over the past year and a half in performances and results; this FC Barcelona is one of the best teams in the history of the game," Solari told the official Barcelona website. "Obviously Barça hold all the trumps. But all the onus is on Barça as well. We know that.

"We'll try and play our football as we always do. Then, how far we get will depend on the problems Barça create for us."