The opening acts at the FIFA Club World Cup were pretty entertaining. Now Lionel Messi and Neymar are ready for center stage and perhaps a final duel that would pit South America's preeminent attacking talents against each other.
The first few games at the tournament have provided some great theater, with host Kashiwa Reysol stealing the show with two victories, including a penalty-kick triumph over CONCACAF champion Monterrey.
While the hosts have carried the action so far, the two marquee entrants in the tournament are set to take over. Barcelona and Santos enter in this week's semifinals with each being a win away from setting up a dream championship matchup between two star-studded, attack-minded powerhouses that span the globe.
Neymar and fellow Brazilian up-and-comer Ganso lead Santos against Kashiwa (Wednesday, 5:30 a.m., Fox Soccer Channel). After Santos qualified by winning the Copa Libertadores, both players placed an enormous amount of stress on being able to compete in this worldwide showcase (spurning transfer offers in the process), meaning that Kashiwa has its toughest task of the tournament on the way. Then again, for a team that went from second division to top-flight champion in two seasons, perhaps Kashiwa has another surprise in the works.
Barcelona, meanwhile, is coming off an emotional weekend after battling back to take three points from Real Madrid in the Clasico. After nearly a 7,000-mile trip to the east, the defending European champions brace themselves for Thursday's match against Qatari club Al-Sadd (Thursday, 5:30 a.m., Fox Soccer Channel), which advanced after trumping African entrant Esperance in the quarterfinals.
Monterrey and Esperance will look to salvage something from their trip by playing in Wednesday's fifth-place game (2:30 a.m., Fox Soccer Channel).
Excited for the Club World Cup semifinals? Do you think there's any chance we don't see a Santos-Barcelona final?
Share your thoughts below.