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Barcelona 3 Manchester United 1: Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa crown Barca kings of Europe

29 May 2011 17:50:16

Barcelona 3 Manchester United 1: Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa crown Barca kings of Europe

ShareIf Wembley is the stage, then Leo Messi is the player. Last night, Barcelona won the Champions League, their third such triumph in six years, confirming the fact that they are the greatest team this generation has seen. And yet more than that was accomplished last night. The new Wembley Stadium, opened in 2007, came of age. It has staged some memorable games but whereas the old stadium resonated with the spirit of Ferenc Puskas, Sir Stanley Matthews, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona, the modern incarnation lacked a sense of history. Joining the greats: Victor Valdes, Xavi and Eric Abidal toast another memorable night for the kings of Europe Now men and women will tell their grandchildren of how they watched the great Leo Messi beneath the stadium's grand arch and how, like Puskas once demolished the foundations of English football, he and his teammates picked apart the finest club team the nation could muster. So great is the team ethic of Barcelona and so fine are the supporting roles of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, that it seems unjust to over simplify what was a magnificent spectacle. On a high: Barcelona players toss Pep Guardiola into the London sky - just as they did after victory at the Stadio Olympico two years ago Yet Messi is the personification of Barca and last night he and they sparkled, even without their captain Carles Puyol. In fact, when Eric Abidal, diagnosed with liver cancer in February and yet playing a key part here, lifted the famous jug-eared trophy in the Royal Box, even Manchester United fans would have acknowledged it was a truly poignant moment.'In my time as manager they are the best team I have faced,' said the defeated manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. 'They do mesmerise you with their passing. We tried to play as near to the way we normally play but it wasn't good enough on the night and we understand that and acknowledge it.' Indeed, United set about Barcelona like a team intent on avenging their humiliation at the hands of the some opponents in the Rome final of 2009. Sealing the deal: David Villa curls in Barcelona's third goal Javier Hernandez initially hurtled about and Wayne Rooney refused to allow opponents to settle, while Ji-Sung Park's inability to acknowledge a lost cause was entirely predictable. Briefly, Barcelona's passing carousel, as Ferguson so memorably named it in 2009,appeared to be malfunctioning. It was, however, a temporary glitch. Afull nine minutes had passed before Barcelona managed a decent sequence. It wasn't quite true to say United failed to regain possessionfor the remaining 81 minutes; it just felt like it. The Little Maestro strikes: Lionel Messi surprises the United rearguard, firing Barca 2-1 ahead Slowly, surely, like a python crushing its victims, Barcelona simply squeeze the life out of teams with their inerrant passing. Pedro went close on 16 minutes, David Villashot just wide on 18 minutes and forced a sharp save from Edwin van derSar after 21. Xavi, imperious in midfield, strolledgoalwards and, after a number of unchallenged touches, delivered as perfect a pass as can be played with the side of the foot into the path of Pedro. The 23-year-old from Tenerife took a glancing touch, picked his spot and drove the ballinto the corner of the net beyond Van der Sar. [caption It was Rome revisited: a great start for United followed by a football lesson. 'We played better than in Rome,' said Pep Guardiola, their coach. 'I wasn't that impressed when I watched the Rome game again. But tonight was different. I was proud of the way we won.' Yet if we have come to understand anything about this United team, which never truly reaches the heights of some of its illustrious forebearers, it is that they are nothing if not indefatigable in spirit. Magic moment: Wayne Rooney linked up with Ryan Giggs to restore parity with this magnificent strike Rio Ferdinand was the instigator of the response, battling Villa from a Barca throw-in to release Rooney who, for the first time in the game, was into his magnificent stride, bearing down on goal. He released Ryan Giggs, in an unnoticed offside position, who returned the ball swiftly to his team-mate. Ten yards out with unequivocal precision, Rooney lashed the ball past Victor Valdes. Falling behind: Edwin van der Sar looks ruefully at his net after Pedro (unsighted) gave the Catalans the advantage 'When we got a lifeline I expected us to do better,' said Ferguson ruefully. There was still reason to be fearful.On 44 minutes, Messi contrived to miss an open goal from six yards after a magnificent exchange with Villa; it was just a prelude to demonstrate his humanity. For the second half was an exhibition. Disappointing evening: Javier Hernandez failed to shine in the Wembley spotlight The Argentine has never previously scored in England but saves his moments for the big occasions.United were holding their line well when Iniesta, after 54 minutes, found Messi in space. Patrice Evra tried belatedly to close him but by then it was too late; the waif of a player was lining up a shot of inconceivable power. Van der Sar might have done better, diving to his left and touching it in, yet he will have felt unreasonably exposed. Mutual respect: Sir Alex Ferguson congratulates his victorious opponents The carousel was turning at full speed now. United could barely touch the ball and they werereduced, again, to being spectators at a grand final. They defended manfully and at times desperately, blocking shots and scooping strikes off the line. Van der Sar, in his swansong, demonstrated his worth with a trio of saves. It was but delaying the inevitable. Messi, by now at his delightful best, tricked Evra and danced goalwards. Pulling the strings: United had no answer to the brilliance of Xavi, pictured setting up Pedro's opener He was dispossessed but Nani, on for Fabio, unforgivably allowed himself to be robbed by Sergio Busquets, whotouched the ball back to Villa. Food for thought: Rooney and Ryan Giggs contemplate another defeat at the hands of Barcelona On the edge of the area, Villa delivered the most charming, curling ball that dropped effortlessly intothe net. It was as fine an execution as you could witness.  There's no 'I' in team! Majestic Messi plays down Champions League heroicsMessi the magician: Sir Alex hails Barcelona as 'the best we've ever played'Kop that! Mascherano dedicates Barca's Euro triumph to Liverpool fansCHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL LIVE: Barcelona v Manchester United - the action from Wembley as it happenedAll the latest Manchester United news, features and opinion  Explore more:People: Wayne Rooney, Alex Ferguson, David Villa, Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes, Edwin Van Der Sar, Andres Iniesta, Diego Maradona, Nani, Leo Messi, Johan Cruyff, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand Places: Barcelona, Rome, United Kingdom, Europe


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