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Football
Barcelona: The rightful rulers of Europe
Lionel Messi dazzles as Barcelona cruise to a 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final
Last Modified: 28 May 2011 22:55
Messi leaves United players standing once more as he puts Barcelona ahead in the Champions League final [GETTY]

Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1 to claim their third Champions League title in six years at Wembley on Saturday.

It was the Catalan club's fourth Champions League win and now only Liverpool, AC Milan and fierce rival Real Madrid have won more European Cups. 

However, it wasn't the number of titles Barcelona have won that made this occasion remarkable.

Average United

Instead, it was the way a dazzling Barcelona side made the Premier League winners Manchester United look distinctly average during the most fiercely awaited game of the year.

"The people watching could see that we not only won but we played a brilliant match," Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola told Spanish television.

Barcelona striker Lionel Messi somehow managed to outshine even his talented teammates, scoring one goal and making the other.

"Lionel is the best player I have seen and probably the best I will ever see," said Guardiola.  

Hot favourites for the title from the start of the season, Barcelona were thrilled to have lived up to expectations and to win a trophy that Guardiola said required "a hell of a lot of effort".

"We knew the potential we had and we just had to make the most of it," David Villa, who scored an 18-metre curler for Barca's third goal, told Spanish television.

"It's been a great deal of work... To be happier right now would be impossible."

Ripped apart

Statistics were forgotten for a while as the world watched a Barcelona side carve through the United defence with the delicacy of the most experienced butcher.

United's attacking twosome Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez might have been smiling and joking before kick-off, but their smiles soon disappeared when Manchester United found themselves dominated by a far superior team.   

Despite a bright first ten minutes from United, Barcelona soon settled into the match utilising their trademark one-touch passing and uncanny ability of knowing exactly where their teammates were at all times.

Xavi Hernandez orchestrated play from in front of Sergio Busquets, while Andres Iniesta and Messi tormented United with the pinpoint accuracy of their passing.

Pedro Rodriguez opened the scoring for Barcelona midway through the first half from an imaginative through ball from stand-in captain Xavi.

However, against the run of play, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs combined to give United an unlikely equaliser. Rooney calmly and clinically used one touch of the ball to pull United back into the game – albeit fleetingly.

On the touchline, United manager Alex Ferguson appeared as shocked as he was delighted to see his team equalise and the shudder of relief than run through Rooney after scoring suggested the same.

United were still a team in trouble. 

Messing up United

In the second half, there was no doubt which side would walk away with the much coveted European trophy. 

The enigmatic Messi pried United apart with every touch and dribble and fittingly the Argentina striker conjured up a goal out of nowhere in the 54th-minute from the edge of the area to give Barcelona the lead for the second time.

There seemed to be no space as Messi was tracked across the 18-meter (yard) line by fullback Patrice Evra, but the two-time world player of the year spotted a gap between the central defenders and hit a shot down the middle, beating goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar for pace.

With the delight of a schoolboy scoring in front of his parents, Messi ran to the corner flag to pump his arms with delight at his supporters.

Messi followed his 53rd goal of a remarkable season with a feint and run that eventually led to David Villa receiving possession on the edge of the area, from where the Spain striker curled a shot into the top corner.

United were a team already beaten.

Barcelona's short-passing game pushed the United players deep into their own half and kept them there, with Xavi, Villa, Iniesta and Messi finding space where none seemed to exist.

With United unable to get hold of the ball, Ferguson began to turn as red as the crimson rose on his breast.

A telling smile

The performance was so comfortable that Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was able to bring on regular captain Carles Puyol for the last few moments, giving the injury-hit defender the chance to play a part in a memorable triumph.

As the final whistle blew, Alex Ferguson managed a smile as he shook hands with rival Pep Guardiola.

It was a smile that said it all – Ferguson could at least console himself with the fact that there was absolutely nothing he could have done to stop Barcelona. 

In a gesture symbolising Barcelona's team ethic, Puyol handed the armband over to Eric Abidal – whose place in the team had been in doubt after he had surgery this season to remove a liver tumor – and the French defender lifted the famous trophy.

Commentators had said before the game that Barcelona, who had already won a third straight Spanish league title, would be ranked among football's truly great sides with victory over United.

Few would dispute these claims following such a ruthless display, whichever statistics you have to hand.

Source:
Agencies
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