David Saura (special correspondent)
The Eternal City has witnessed the triumph of an unforgettable Barça. The victory against Manchester United has brought the Club its third Champions League / European Cup and an historic treble. Barça, Barça, Barça!
We all know about the Barça of the Five Cups and the Dream Team. Now we have the Barça of the treble. Josep Guardiola’s unbelievable first season as head coach has culminated in taking the Champions League away from Manchester United, until now widely considered the best team in the world. The English champions were looking to be the first side to win back-to-back Champions Leagues. But now there is a new champion. Barça.
The first treble of the 21st century
Until now, only four teams could boast of having achieved the treble of league, Cup and Champions League / European Cup: Celtic (1967), Ajax (1972), PSV Eindhoven (1988) and Manchester United (1999). Now FC Barcelona has entered that select group, the first team to do so in the ferociously competitive 21st century. The 27th May will now be a day for all Barça fans to celebrate.
A love of good football
And what makes victory taste even sweeter is that Barça has risen to the top of European football playing the kind of football that has delighted fans everywhere. The whole of Europe recognizes the Barça style, the natural successor to Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team.
The current squad of players has played a fundamental role. In these days of chequebook teambuilding, Barça has reached the top with 7 first team players that have come up through the Barça youth ranks. This combination of home-grown talent and foreign stars is again a reflection of the Club’s policy of remaining true to its local roots.
Guardiola has downplayed the significance of his contribution but there is no doubt that he has changed the face of the team in just one short year. His capacity for leadership, his ability to motivate the players and make them believe in themselves, combined with an extraordinary capacity for work and technical analysis of the game are factors, backed up by results, which have found him a place in the history of FC Barcelona and football in general.
These are the same virtues we saw a year ago (in charge of Barça B) and which won him the chance to lead the first team. It wasn’t an easy decision but it has turned out to be correct. Now the Barça family can enjoy the fruits of that decision. And how!
Barça complete historic treble in Rome (2-0)
FC Barcelona created history on Wednesday evening as they won the UEFA Champions League in Rome to add to the domestic title and Copa del Rey thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi.
In a superb display of the type of football that has typified what has been a magnificent season, Barça became the first team from the Spanish league to complete the unique treble as they ended Manchester United’s run of 25 games unbeaten in the European competition.
The predictions that the homegrown mix of players with star international names would find the Red Devils a difficult team looked to be correct in the opening minutes as Cristiano Ronaldo looked alert and lively, but Barça held tight and took control of proceedings. The Portuguese was said to be one of the men to watch and he forced Víctor Valdés to make a save early on that required Gerard Piqué to then meet the rebound and clear.
The opening goal
Guardiola’s team have won plaudits from around the world for their passing and possession game and the more Xavi and Andrés Iniesta came into the game the tougher it became for Ronaldo and United to employ the style of play that has seen them win the Premier League, Carling Cup and World Club Cup this season.
After the English side’s bright start, Barcelona showed them the way to goal with almost their first attack after ten minutes. Eto’o was picked out on the right of the area and he stepped inside Nemanja Vidic before taking aim with a shot that Edwin van der Sar met but was unable to keep out and the Cameroonian striker wheeled away to the corner flag to celebrate the opening goal.
Style and technique
That goal gave the Blaugrana the confidence that they required and they lifted their game as United began to have to chase and work in order to gain possession and try and find a way back into the game, but they were unable to as Guardiola’s players started to enjoy themselves.
Lionel Messi was the focus of much attention in the build-up and he sent a drive just over the bar from 25 yards out before Xavi lined up the first free-kick of the evening and saw his effort curl just over the near post as Van der Sar came across to cover.
After half-time, Sir Alex Ferguson looked to bolster his front line with the introduction of Carlos Tévez in place of Anderson, but even that move did not allow United to prevent Barcelona from creating more chances to wrap up the encounter. Henry moved away from Rio Ferdinand in the 50th minute and sent saw his shot saved by the keeper before Xavi sent a low free-kick around the wall and saw it cannon back of the post soon after as the Catalan outfit continued to dominate.
Last season Gerard Piqué picked up a medal as an unused player for Manchester United and just a year later he became the first player to ever win the trophy with two different clubs in consecutive years. Not only did he create history, but the defender was also outstanding in the second period as he prevented his former club from finding a way back into the game. Even Dimitar Berbatov came on to give United even more going forward were they unable to regularly break Barça down.
Messi heads home
Valdés proved that he was still focussed as he raced to deny Ronaldo from close range, but the keeper did not have a busy evening as the midfield dominated and a second goal for Barcelona always looked likely and when it came it was a superb effort. Xavi looked up from a few yards outside on the right of the area and clipped a cross beyond the defence where Messi rose and stayed up to nod a textbook header beyond Van der Sar and into the far corner of the net with 70 minutes on the clock.
That was the signal for the celebrations to begin being planned as Roma joined Wembley and Paris in the Barça history books. An historic win on an historic night in an historic city was a fitting tribute for the team of the season to complete their memorable treble.
Messi crowned king of the Champions League
In a Champions League showdown billed as Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo to see who is the best player in the world it was the Portuguese international that began brightly, but the Argentinian that came out as a hero.
The Barcelona and Manchester United stars drew nearly all the attention during an intense build-up to the Champions League final in Rome as they have been cited as the best by FIFA and France Football magazine and neither disappointed, but just like in the Bernabéu against Real Madrid, Messi was able to move in field more, while Ronaldo also took up a central role as he did against Arsenal in the semi finals.
In the opening minutes it was Ronaldo that shone as he saw a free-kick from 25 yards that saw Vítor Valdés parry the ball and have Gerard Piqué clear the rebound and again the United player took aim from 40 minutes soon after with a drive that was off target as he looked confident and ambitious. There was to be another effort in the eighth minute that flew past the far post too.
Eto’o opens the scoring
Manchester United’s early promise and attacking intent had the brakes firmly put on it after ten minutes though when Barcelona netted the first goal of the game with their opening attack as Samuel Eto’o beat Edwin van der Sar. Practically of the Red Devils’ attacks came through Ronaldo and in the end he was having to be stopped by any means properly as Gerard Piqué proved when being booked in the 16th minute.
Growing in confidence
Barça grew in confidence and improved throughout in the Olympic Stadium and within the team Messi also looked better and better as he linked up well with the ever-impressive Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández to keep United chasing the game and chasing the ball. The Argentinian had his first chance of the game in the 19th minute when he looked up from outside the area and sent a drive that flew just over Van der Sar’s crossbar. Before half-time he then embarked on a run towards the centre of the Manchester United defence before shooting.
The second goal
In the second half the game opened up even more and Messi had claims for a penalty waved away in the 50th minute. His statistics were also well on the way to being impressive as he completed 51 passes, with 84 per cent success rate, while Ronaldo managed 31 passes, with a 68 per cent success rate. In the 70th minute the two players were separated at last as Messi was picked out by a sublime cross from Xavi and he rose behind Ferdinand to send a stunning header beyond Van der Sar and into the far corner of the net. Ronaldo’s game concluded as he received a card for a tackle on Puyol and left Messi being crowned as the king of the Champions League with nine goals.
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