Spanish giants and 2018 La Liga champions Barcelona FC lived up to its billing with a 3-1 victory over South African Premier League champions Mamelodi Sundowns at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
Barcelona arrived in South Africa some ten hours before the friendly match against Mamelodi Sundowns which is part of the Nelson Mandela Centenary celebrations.
The Catalans took an early lead just two minutes into the game with an unstoppable strike from Dembele off a defensive error that gave the 21-year-old a memorable present for his birthday.
Dennis Suarez set up his namesake Luis Suarez who easily slot his shot past an on-rushing goalkeeper Onyango to increase the tally to two in the 19th minute of the game.
Sundowns players regained their nerves and got a bit more possession of the ball thereafter but ended the first half two goals down.
On resumption, the South African club side made concerted efforts to find the back of the Barcelona net to no avail. Rather, another defensive blunder indicated sunset for Sundowns in the game, as Andre Gomes made no mistake in netting the third goal for Barcelona.
However, Sundowns forward Vilakazi grabbed one back for the home side with a cool finish past Cillessen in the 75th minute.
Earlier, the crowd rent the air with chants of ‘Messi, Messi, Messi’ in the hopes of seeing the Argentinian in action. Their desire was met with the appearance of Lionel Messi who played at a walking pace and displayed a passing exhibition for his excited fans.
Andres Iniesta, who scored the winning goal for Spain to lift the 2010 World Cup at the FNB
Stadium in Johannesburg, also put up an appearance. 33-year-old Iniesta, widely considered one of the greatest players of his generation and among the most gifted midfielders of all time, said on Friday that he would close his Barcelona career at the end of the season.
Ahead of the match, Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane said the Absa Premiership Champions had little chance of beating Barcelona but hoped the experience of playing against the Spanish giants would leave a positive impact on his players.
“The Barca game is for the guys to get experience, to see how far we are and what the difference is between us and Barca. It is about seeing how our tactics are in relation to Barca.
“This match is not about who will win,” Mosimane said. “I think we know who’ll win. We expect Barca to win, not to say we aren’t confident but the reality has to be there. If we win, it’s unbelievable.”
Barcelona were brought out to South Africa, for a second time in the last 10 years, to play Sundowns by the club’s billionaire owner Patrice Motsepe, who is an avid fan of the Catalan club.
He paid 3-million Euros for Barcelona to fly in and out to play the match, according to a report in The Barcelona daily El Mundo Deportivo. Barcelona won the 2007 encounter with a 2-1 goal margin.
They were scheduled to fly back to Spain straight after the match, to begin their preparations for their final League game against Real Sociedad next Sunday.
Sundowns finished the domestic season last Saturday and will be playing a Champions League game at Horoya of Guinea May 22, next week.