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Exclusive: Fans Pay Homage To Barcelona At Club World Cup

They came in droves to see Barcelona's first game at the Club World Cup here in the UAE. The build up began as soon as the European champions touched down in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. It didn't even start slowly. From the off it flowed like a torrent. And it began with the media. They jostled, shouted, heaved and pushed their way to catch a glimpse of the superstars when Barca announced an open training session, on their first full day in the city.

The idyllic and remote training complex given to the Catalans was suddenly overrun with over a hundred reporters and photographers as cameras whirred and clicked to exhaustion. Journalists waited to ask their questions like crocodiles starved before feeding time. And soon enough Carles Puyol came through.

He spoke of his delight to be in the country and honour to be playing in the tournament. But there was deep concern from the media. Everyone wanted to know about Lionel Messi. Would the world's best player be fit enough to play against Atalante?

The fans played their part. The shopping mall where tickets were being sold was brimming with people. It seemed like a secret Barca shirt wearing society had suddenly sprung up overnight. Everywhere you turned, people were in the Blaugrana of Barca. At last the locals had revealed their true colours. I was quoted prices of around US $80 for a ticket. Barcelona's opening game was selling out fast and a capacity crowd was expected at the Sports City Stadium for their semi-final against Atlante.

I approach a group of fans and pulled out my microphone. I introduced myself and I was immediately mobbed. "Did you say! Farhad come quick it's they want to interview me. Quickly come here!"

"Me too," two others said. "I love please ask me something. Will your questions be hard?"

One young boy asked. I am completely taken aback. The love for the game here is quite remarkable but is expressed so differently than in Spain or the UK. English fans will cross rivers and climb mountains to follow their team. The Emirates had, until Barcelona's arrival, been shy of such dedication.

The opening matches have lacked huge crowds. When the rain cascaded in the match between TP Mazembe and Auckland, supporters ran up and down like yoyos. Climbing down into the open when it stopped raining, before running back up into the covered parts of the stadium when it started again. 

"My love for Barcelona began when I was very young," Mishoye who lives in Abu Dhabi tells me. "I used to love the Netherlands team and when Barcelona had all those Dutch players some years ago, I just fell in love with them. Another reason why I like them is that they make a star from zero as we can see in Messi."

Farhad, who hails from Saudi Arabia, has finally joined his friend and now takes over. "My favourite players are Leo Messi for sure [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and [Andres] Iniesta. They are the best players. And I hope that they can win the cup..."

Another fan, Bashar suddenly cuts in from nowhere.

"For me the real football starts here now that Barcelona have arrived. For sure one hundred per cent. And when Messi starts playing it's just a different team altogether. I hope he is fit."

In the pre match news conference, Guardiola could just as easily have sent out a drone with a pre recorded message that simply said, 'Yes Messi is fit and he will come into consideration to play against Atlante.'

The fan zones in the two stadia, where this tournament is being played out, is lively and full of youngsters getting down to the Black Eyed Peas in between throwing themselves into all the football related activities on offer.

A record crowd of 40,000 people came on the night to witness Barcelona dismantle Atlante with a stunning second half performance. In amongst the crowd were over 1,500 fans who have made it all the way from Catalunya. This number is only half the amount that made the journey all the way from Argentina to follow Estudientes, their rivals in the final on Saturday.

It's the final the fans have been hoping for and it's the showdown between Europe and South America the football community secretly always wants to see. Messi ran on in the second half to rapturous applause, and duly scored the second goal and set about tearing the Mexicans apart. It was as if a pantomime show had been scripted with the happy ending where all of the team's stars put on a super show. After the game, once again inundated by fans, it was clear to me that there reigns supreme one superstar above them all.

"This tournament started when Lionel Messi came on and scored that fantastic goal with his very first touch. I have no doubt that if he plays they will win this," An expat from London named Sean told me. 

"They showed us a very entertaining game. The moment that Messi came on he changed the whole game. It was just crazy. He changed everything it was just crazy," Joseph exclaimed shaking his head in disbelief.

And another fan Mina summed up the general mood among supporters here in Abu Dhabi. "You can tell from the audience. This game had 40,000 people. Everyone has come to see Barcelona. The next game [the final] will be the most expensive, the most crowded and the most exciting game. The whole of this tournament is about the one game, the final. And Barcelona will win it."

Ashish Sharma,