JOHANNESBURG, May 16 – Barcelona cruised to a comfortable 3-1 win over Mamelodi Sundowns in the Nelson Mandela Centenary Cup at the FNB Stadium on Wednesday night.
The illustrious visitors, who gave all of their big name players a run out on the night, went 2-0 up inside 20 minutes, adding a third goal 20 minutes after the break before Sibusiso Vilakazi grabbed a late consolation.
After a long flight from Spain which only arrived in South Africa on Wednesday morning, Barcelona were looking to ease into proceedings.
The Spanish outfit did indeed make the perfect start from their perspective, when with just two minutes played, Ousmane Dembele picked up a poor pass from Bangaly Soumahoro and then beat the Sundowns defender with a sharp turn before burying an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top corner.
The hosts had a great chance to level matters 10 minutes later when Percy Tau sprinted clear through on goal, but he tried to get too clever with an attempted chip and Barcelona keeper Andre ter Stegen made a comfortable save.
The La Liga side though were giving a shaky Sundowns defence headaches just about every time they attacked, and it was nearly 2-0 moments later when a quick counter ended with Luis Suarez dragging a shot narrowly wide of the far post.
The second goal wasn’t long in coming though as once more the ‘Downs defence was badly exposed, Soumahoro again getting himself into a tangle which allowed Suarez to run on to a 19th minute pass from Denis Suarez before putting the ball past an on-rushing Denis Onyango.
The capacity crowd was certainly getting value for their money as the action continued, Sundowns having a couple of chances as ter Stegen tipped a Vilakazi effort onto the bar, before Khama Billiat lost his nerve at the far post with the goal at his mercy and then Hlompho Kekana had a vicious shot tipped over by the Catalan goalkeeper.
However, Barcelona were still finding holes in the Premieship champions’ defence at will and Kekana had to clear a Dembele effort off his own line, while Denis Suarez nearly added a third when his header hit the bar six minutes before half-time in Soweto.
The second half saw the Spanish team making 10 substitutions, which meant that Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets departed the action, although Gerard Pique did make his way onto the park.
The action slowed somewhat after the restart and the first clear chance of the second stanza fell to the Tshwane team on 52 minutes, Kekana’s deflected effort saved by replacement keeper Jasper Cillessen.
The South Africans seemed more assured as the game moved past the hour mark, but a mistake from Kekana at the back allowed Andre Gomes to slot in an easy goal, 3-0 to the visitors after 66 minutes played.
Finally, the capacity crowd had their wish when Lionel Messi, reportedly not fully fit, entered the fray in the 74th minute, with Philippe Coutinho also being introduced into the action.
But before the Argentine genius could influence the game, Sundowns pulled a goal back when Vilakazi slotted home from close range after a clever pass from Tau.
The Brazilians were to enjoy plenty of possession in the closing stages of the game, but were guilty of over-elaboration, while some sloppy defence from the hosts also meant that Mweene had a couple of late saves to make as the La Liga champions comfortably held onto their 3-1 advantage.