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Santos defeated Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 on Wednesday to advance to the finals of FIFA's Club World Cup. The victory by the reigning South American champions sets up a much-anticipated potential showdown with European champions Barcelona in the finals.
Barcleona will take on Qatari club Al-Sadd in the other semifinal match Thursday in Yokohama.
The potential final match between Santos and Barcelona would feature two of soccer's brightest young stars -- 19-year-old Neymar of Santos and 24-year-old Lionel Messi of Barcelona, a two-time winner of FIFA's Best Player in the World award.
At 19, Neymar is thought by some, most notably Pelé, to be better than Messi. Neymar has explosive acceleration and superb finishing skills. He scored one of Santos' goals in defeating Kashiwa Reysol.
Although he plays on one of Brazil's most storied clubs --Santos featured Pelé as its star player between 1956 and 1974 and has won three Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent to the Champion's League, and two Intercontinental Cups, a match-up between European and South Amreican champions-- Neymar does not receive the level of media coverage reserved for star players in the major Euriopean teams, players like Messi. His fans relish the chance for Neymar and Santos to be able to showcase their talent on the global stage.
Messi and Barcelona, on the other hand, are old hands at handling the media glare. The Argentine forward is generally considered the best player in the world and has lead Barcelona to UEFA Champion's League titles in 2009 and 2011 and a Club World Cup trophy in 2009.
Always closely marked by defenders, Messi shows remarkable skill at working in tight spaces and has a deft passing and clinical finishing touch.
He has been short-listed for the third time for the Baloon D'Or best player award. Both Neymar and Messi have also been nominated for a FIFA's Puskas award for best goal of the year.
The Club World Cup final is set for Sunday in Yokohama.