ROME, Italy — CNN — It was billed as a battle between the world’s top two clubs. One lived up to expectations, another did not.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/28/xavi-art.jpg caption="Pedro Pinto rated Xavi as Barcelona's best player in the Champions League final."]
Barcelona taught Manchester United a lesson at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday and were deservedly crowned Kings of Europe. It was an historic victory for the Catalans who became the first Spanish club to win the league, cup and Champions League.
The atmosphere at the Olimpico was electric with both sets of fans singing and cheering throughout the match. It was United who were quickest off the blocks as Cristiano Ronaldo had three shots on target in the opening 10 minutes of play. However, Barcelona were not shaken and they scored with their first opportunity. Great runs from Andres Iniesta and Samuel Eto’o easily beat Patrice Evra and then Edwin Van der Sar to spark wild celebrations at the Barcelona end of the stands.
The goal inspired the Spanish Giants and they started to assert themselves, passing and moving at ease. The first “Oles” were heard after a move that involved practically every Barcelona player touching the ball.
Ronaldo seemed to be the only one capable of swimming against the current. Every time the FIFA World Player of the Year had possession, you had the feeling something could happen. United’s midfield was clearly struggling to create goal-scoring opportunities though, and that led Sir Alex Ferguson to withdraw the disappointing Anderson and introduce the energetic Carlos Tevez.
United showed intent, but it was still Barcelona who was oozing skill and class. Thierry Henry could and should have scored and second and Xavi hit the post. Ferguson then put on Dimitar Berbatov in a desperate attempt to get an equalizing goal, but the move backfired as their opponents struck a deadly blow. Midfield maestro Xavi with the cross, and Leo Messi, one of the shortest players on the pitch, rose majestically to head the ball past Van Der Sar.
This time, there was no miraculous comeback like there had been at the Camp Nou in 1999. Barcelona held on to become worthy winners. They had the best attack in the competition, scoring 32 goals in 13 matches and they played the best football. Yes, there was an exception – the second leg of the semi-final against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But fortune favours the brave and they rode their luck to make the title match.
Last but not least, what can we say about Pep Guardiola? In his first ever season as a professional manager, he wins the treble! He also became only the sixth man to win the European Cup as a player and as a manager. What can he do for an encore?
Move over Jose Mourinho, there is a new special one in town.
Hot and Cold
United’s best – Van der Sar. Made six saves and kept the match close thanks to his quick reactions and safe pair of hands.
United’s worst – Anderson. Looked lost in midfield and was chasing shadows in the first half. Ferguson withdrew him at the break.
Barcelona’s best – Xavi. The ease with which the midfield maestro sets the tempo and pulls the string in midfield is phenomenal. Assisted Messi for his goal and hit the post from a free kick.
Barcelona’s worst – Sylvinho. The veteran never really got in the game and never posed a threat on the wing. Was average on a night everyone around him was a step above.
ROME, Italy - CNN - There was a double defeat for Manchester United in the Eternal City. Not only did the players metaphorically fail to show up but their fans were literally out sung by Barcelona's noisy, colorful contingent of fans.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/28/barca.fans.gi.jpg caption="Barcelona fans proudly display their club colors in Rome."]
One of the great myths of British football was shattered. English fans do not always travel in greater numbers and chant louder than supporters following other sides in Europe. The red and blue kit of Barcelona was the color of the day around Rome on Wednesday and many Manchester United supporters told me they were surprised to be seemingly in the minority.
It is impossible to collect exact figures but reports that Barca returned 7000 tickets from their official allocation seem hard to believe judging from the view inside the Stadio Olimpico.
English fans pride themselves on their witty (and, lets be honest, plain rude) songs but you can not fail to be impressed by the communal "technique" of Barcelona's support – scarves are twirled in unison above heads, producing a vast, rapidly moving, wall of color. And because they favor shrill whistling to singing or shouting they are louder than many of their rivals.
In fairness to the United faithful, their team did not offer a great deal to cheer about come the time of asking.
The English did claim victory on one front, though. While Barcelona fans wandered around Rome bemoaning the lack of beer, United's cunning supporters defied the alcohol ban and, with the help of some compliant bar owners, became champion drinkers for the day – even if their team gave away their Champions of Europe crown at the end of it.