They’re here. Barcelona are actually here.
Indeed it was immediately after their last round La Liga game – a 2-0 loss at home to Villarreal – FC Barcelona made their way to the airport for the long flight to Australia for the historic friendly against the A-League All-Stars which kicks off tonight.
The make-up of the 20-man Barça squad coming Down Under for the one-off match at Accor Stadium was confirmed earlier this week.
While some players are out with injury or national selection, manager Xavi Hernández is bringing a squad with a smattering of huge names alongside several future stars. As Brett Emerton said, the Barcelona youth system is like a window on the superstars of the future.
When shown the list by media on Monday morning (well, I showed him FC Barcelona’s tweet on my phone.
A-Leagues All Stars Head Coach Dwight Yorke said the strength of Barça’s squad was no surprise.
“It goes without saying they are a phenomenal team in terms of what they bring to the table. And that’s why you expect a big crowd; they’re world class players with a world class manager. We expect them to be highly entertaining and very hard to beat,” Yorke said.
Yorke added that very few people expected his team to win given the gulf in class. And said that given Barca will travel nearly 24 hours from Barcelona via Darwin, land in Sydney at 8am on Tuesday ahead of the game 36 hours later, his team had a “free shot”.
“You can’t really predict what the team is likely to be, they just had a very difficult game [against Villareal], and then flying straight here. So they probably have maybe less than 48 hours to prepare for this game. So it’s going to be really tough for them. And that might give us an opportunity to kind of have a go at them in some respect.
“But still, you have to be mindful that you are playing Barcelona, after all,” Yorke said.
The All Stars’ underdog status can work for his team, according to Yorke.
“A lot of people don’t expect us to overturn Barcelona. So we got a free shot at them in many respects. And hopefully can throw some attacking football towards them.
“It’s a good opportunity for these young players to test themselves against one of the best teams, to match up themselves against some of the best players in world football and see where they are.
“I’m sure one or two of them have the aspiration to play abroad, to play at these big clubs,” Yorke said.
One player in that category is 17-year-old Garang Kuol who looms as a ‘super sub’ for coach Yorke.
Originally from Victoria’s Goulburn Valley Suns, Kuol has been drafted into the All Stars following promising performances for Central Coast Mariners including a goal on debut and three goals on the trot in 9 appearances, all off the bench.
Kuol said Barcelona was a team full of top players. “They’re a team of big name players who’ve won trophies all around the world,” Kuol said.
One of those is Dani Alves, whom Kuol describes as “a monster”.
“I’ll be staying away from him. But yeah, we’ll see what happens with the team. We’ll see who the gaffer puts out and we’ll go from there,” Kuol said.
Kuol’s strengths as a player are his speed and ability to progress the ball forward up the pitch. Asked if he planned to dribble around the superstar Barca defenders he said: “I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’ve scored a few goals here or there this season. Had a couple of assists. But the team was in form – no-one could really stop us,” Kuol said.
Kuol’s Mariners team-mate, 26-year-old Scottish-born striker Jason Cummings – who has found himself on Graham Arnold’s Socceroos’ radar courtesy of 10 goals in 20 games and an Australian passport – said he’d only just met Yorke but is looking forward to learning from him.
“It’ll be good to get to know him over the next couple of days. As a striker, I’m really excited … when he was playing back in the day he was probably one of the best strikers in the world for me and you know his link up play was incredible.
So it’ll be good to maybe pick his brain and like learn some learn some stuff,” Cummings said.
NOTE: Matt Cleary is currently on a contract with VenuesLive, manager of Accor Stadium. The Roar agreed to publish his promotional piece for the Barcelona vs A-League All-Stars match.