FC Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has left superstar forward Lionel Messi out of his starting line-up for the Nelson Mandela Centenary Cup encounter against Mamelodi Sundowns at FNB Stadium on Wednesday.
Messi‚ who arrived in the country on Wednesday morning with the rest of his team-mates for this high profile international club friendly‚ is expected to be introduced in the later stages as Barca will be looking to complete a double over the Brazilians.
Barcelona beat Sundowns 2-1 at Loftus in 2007 when the two sides met in a previous friendly in Pretoria‚ a match headlined by now-retired Brazilian star Ronaldihno.
However‚ Valverde named a strong squad led by the irrepressible Iniesta. The team also included superstars Ivan Rakitić‚ Luis Suárez‚ Ousmane Dembélé‚ Nélson Semedo and goalkeeper Marc-André Ter Stegen.
Other notable absentees from Valverde’s starting line-up were Gerard Piqué‚ Jordi Alba‚ Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho‚ but they are also expected to be introduced as the match progresses. On the other hand‚ Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane selected the best possible team for the recently crowned PSL champions‚ led by skipper Hlompho Kekana and including the likes of Khama Billiat‚ Percy Tau‚ Sibusiso Vilakazi and Wayne Arendse.
Ricardo Nascimento was withdrawn from the Sundowns team due to flu.
About an hour before the start of the match there were still a number of empty seats in the stadium‚ but there were many people pouring through the turnstiles. The venue is expected to be filled to the rafters.
Security officials at the gates appeared to be managing the flow of people into the stadium and there no incidents that were reported before the match started.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen‚ Semedo‚ Rakitić‚ Sergio‚ D Suarez‚ Iniesta‚ L Suarez‚ Dembélé‚ Digne‚ Mina‚ Alena Subs: Cillessen‚ Piqué‚ Messi‚ Coutinho‚ Paulinho‚ Paco Alcácer‚ Jordi Alba‚ S.Roberto‚ André Gomes‚ Aleix Vidal‚ R.de Galarreta and J.Cuenca
Sundowns: Onyango‚ Langerman‚ Ngcongca‚ Soumahoro‚ Arendse‚ Mabunda‚ Kekana‚ Billiat‚ Vilakazi‚ Zwane‚ Tau Subs: Mweene‚ Manyisa‚ Sirino‚ Madisha‚ Zulu‚ Sekotlong‚ Brockie‚ Lebese‚ Morena‚ Ngoma