Preamble: Hello and welcome to tonight's UEFA Champions League final. We've got Barcelona and Manchester United, two heavyweights, tangling at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
The big news in the buildup to the match has been the fitness of both clubs. Rio Ferdinand should be turning out for United. Barcelona will be missing Rafa Marquez. And now, courtesy of the Guardian, we hear that both Henry and Iniesta will be starting for Barca, but Berbatov and Tevez will start on the bench for United.
So Barcelona gets a boost with the return of Henry, who was not available for the club during their stunning (and lucky) triumph in the semifinals. Iniesta was in the squad for the semifinal at Stamford Bridge, but only registered one measly shot on goal...
...Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.
You've got figure that it will take more than one goal for Barcelona to emerge victorious tonight and snag their first UCL trophy since 2006. Man United comes into this tie with loads of momentum, having celebrated their third consecutive Premiership title, as well as an easy victory over rivals Arsenal in this competition.
The Reds are favored in this match, but not by much. Bet365.com has the prematch odds set at 13/8 for Man U, 7/4 for Barcelona.
It's worth noting that these two squads met last season, with Paul Scholes proving to be the difference. How will this one unfold?
1-Victor Valdes, 5-Carles Puyol, 24-Yaya Toure, 3-Gerard Pique, 16-Silvinho, 28-Sergio Busquets, 6-Xavi, 8-Andres Iniesta, 10-Lionel Messi, 9-Samuel Eto'o, 14-Thierry Henry, Tom Henning Ovr...oh, no, sorry.
1-Edwin van der Sar, 22-John O'Shea, 5-Rio Ferdinand, 15-Nemanja Vidic, 3-Patrice Evra, 13-Park Ji-sung, 16-Michael Carrick, 8-Anderson, 11-Ryan Giggs, 7-Cristiano Ronaldo, 10-Wayne Rooney
Tonight's completely impartial referee
Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)
Manchester United 3-2 Barcelona (aet)
Pre-match pomp and circumstance
A lady wearing a completely ridiculous gold dress, complete with a gigantic black feather headpiece brings the trophy out onto the field as Andrea Bocelli provides the music.
Bocelli continues to sing as the Champions League anthem is piped over the stadium loudspeakers.
With the pregame festivities done with, Derek Rae makes the first of what's sure to be many jokes about Busacca's neutrality. He'll be here all week folks, try the veal.
0 min: United in a stylish all-white strip with Barcelona in their traditional blaugrana threads. Barca with the kick and we're off!
1 min: Barcelona play the ball back to Victor Valdes, who hoofs it out of play. Interesting strategy, let's see how it pans out.
2 min: Anderson nutmegs an embarrassed Barcelona defender, and earns a free kick. Ronaldo steps up and forces Valdes into action with a knuckling shot. Valdes gives up a rebound and is lucky to not concede to Ji-Sung Park.
4 min: This is Edwin Van Der Sar's fourth Champions League Final. Yes, he's old. Meanwhile, both teams seem to be biding their time and waiting for an opening.
6 min: Wayne Rooney targets a ballboy with a through ball. Goal kick to Barcelona, as sideline reporter Dave Roberts reports on the issues created by the new ball. Apparently small, raised bumps on the surface of it mean that these highly paid professionals will be unable to handle passing, receiving passes or judging shots.
9 min: We're only nine minutes in, and Cristiano Ronaldo has already taken three very dangerous shots. He was unlucky to score with that last one, narrowly missing Valdes' wide open back post. So far, the patchwork Barcelona defense looks to be overmatched.
10 min: GOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!! Barcelona 1-0 Manchester United! What a shock, as Samuel Eto'o is played into the box by Iniesta, I believe. Eto'o cut past one defender and put the goal in off the hands of Van Der Sar.
11 min: Barca follow their opening goal with a corner. It rolls to Messi on the ground 15 yards from goal, but he whiffs. It could have easily been 2-0 right there. Now it's the Manchester United defense that looks out of sorts.
14 min: We've got our first offside call of the night, going against Wayne Rooney. Valdes takes possession from the resulting free kick, and again boots it out of play. Apparently keepers are no longer required to work on their field skills.
16 min: Yellow card to Gerard Pique as Ronaldo gets him turned the wrong way. Another free kick from a dangerous position for United. Giggs to take it...
17 min: ...and he puts it over the bar. Score remains 1-0.
19 min: Messi tries his luck from distance and beats Van Der Sar. Beats the goal as well, but not by much. Goal kick to United as their fans collectively reach for a clean pair of underpants.
22 min: Wayne Rooney wins a corner for United. Three white shirts in the box, compared to seven Barcelona defenders. Needless to say, it doesn't end well for United.
24 min: The commentators assure us that Rafa Nadal, as a Real Madrid fan, is certainly cheering for United tonight. Actually, after Ferguson's dig at Madrid during a pre-match press conference, it's a safe bet to say that Nadal doesn't care for either club, and is instead more worried about his own progress at Roland Garros.
26 min: After some extended possession created by great passing, Iniesta wins a free kick right on the edge of the box. Okay, 25 yards from goal. Xavi steps up to take the kick...
27 min: ...and a near miss! Xavi's curling free kick misses out on the top corner by only a foot, maybe less.
28 min: Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand combine to tackle Lionel Messi. Literally, like a couple of American football linebackers. Rather than take a shot from the resulting free kick, Barca elect to cross the ball and surrender possession. Hmmm.
32 min: The action has slowed a bit, so I'll continue with the tennis riff. Andy Murray is certainly supporting United, because they've got Darren Fletcher on the books. Roger Federer will be cheering for Barcelona because Nadal likes Madrid. And Andy Roddick will be supporting Newcastle because they last won a major title a long time ago and have faded into irrelevance.
35 min: Carlos Puyol attempts a cross into the box, and Vidic knocks it out for a corner. Yaya Toure was allowed to essentially walk through the United midfield immediately prior to the attempted cross. The corner begets another corner, which almost leads to a Gerard Pique goal.
37 min: Xavi lobs a beautiful pass to Puyol in space up the right wing, and his corner nearly finds Henry in front of goal. "Nearly" is the important word there, though.
41 min: United are just struggling in the offensive third of the pitch. Their passes lack crispness, and they've been caught with a couple of offsides. Plus, the Barcelona defense is just swarming anybody in a white shirt.
44 min: A nervous moment for the United defense as they clear the ball to the feet of Leo Messi, just 30 yards from goal. This is really poor football from the defending champs.
45 min: Messi blows past several United defenders and whips a low cross through the box. Van Der Sar spills it, but nobody is around to pick up the rebound.
45+1 min: Iniesta nearly finds Henry with a chip into the box, but it barely floats over his head. That's the end of the first half, folks.
Manchester United looked awful for the last 35 minutes of that half. They aren't playing with energy and just don't look like the polished side that we all expected.
Barcelona, meanwhile, are beating United to every loose ball and have gotten the vast majority of the opportunities. They could easily be up by two or three at this point.
How can Manchester United right the ship? They've got to start by tightening things up in the back line. It's been complete chaos back there and that has allowed Barcelona to enjoy the lion's share of the possession.
Barcelona will hope that the second half plays out just like the first. Aside from a few early scares, the defense has held together well and their midfielders are winning the possession battle handily.
46 min: Barcelona strolls out onto the pitch well after Man United to a chorus of boos. Valdez has his leg wrapped up thanks to a first-half collision with Park. One halftime change for United, as Tevez takes Anderson's place.
49 min: Henry is fed into space down the left wing, and absolutely fakes Rio Ferdinand out of his shorts. But, he's too casual when faced with Van Der Sar and gets denied.
51 min: Eto'o feeds Messi with a through ball in the box, but Messi is just a fraction of a second late arriving. He appeals for a penalty, but there was no chance of that being awarded. Meanwhile, somewhere in Scandinavia, Tom Hennig Ovrebo is yelling at his TV.
52 min: Iniesta is fouled right on the edge of the box, Tevez bringing him down from behind. The ball sits 20 yards from the goal mouth, just waiting to be put into the net.
53 min: XAVI!!! Hits the post...Barcelona are playing even better than they did in the first half, wow. United truly have their backs against the wall.
56 min: United get their first decent opportunity in what seems like ages. A cross is whipped into the box by Rooney, and Park barely misses getting his head to the ball. Valdes may have had it covered, but it would have been interesting.
61 min: United get forward on the counter, and they have numbers. But a through ball by Michael Carrick trickles out for a goal kick. Better stuff from United, but still not good enough. Scoles is warming up on the sidelines.
63 min: Rooney gets into the box, but Gerard Pique deflects his shot out for a corner. Even better for United. But, the corner doesn't touch anybody, and Barca will take the throw.
65 min: Iniesta was clearly hunting for a free kick as he fell over 20 yards from the United goal. Had he kept his feet, he might have had a decent shot. Apparently he got tired and decided to lie down for a bit.
66 min: United substitution: Park off, Berbatov on. Park has actually been pretty effective, unlike Giggs, Rooney, Carrick, etc. Meanwhile, Ronaldo clatters into Puyol from behind.
68 min: Ronaldo tries to get open down the wing, but is instead caught with his 37th offside of the half.
69 min: Pique again denies a Rooney chance for a corner. He's having a great game for Barcelona.
70 min: GOOOOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLL!!!! Barcelona 2-0 Man United!! Leo Messi snuck a header past Van Der Sar off a beautiful feed from Xavi. Surely it's all over for United now. That's Messi's first ever goal against an English opponent, too.
72 min: Barcelona sub: Keita on, Henry off. Good match for Henry, he looked dangerous in his return from injury.
72 min: Giggs bounces a shot off a Barcelona defender and it falls to Ronaldo. Valdes is lightning-quick off his line to stop the shot and concede the corner. This is frantic stuff from the holders.
74 min: Ronaldo scythes down Puyol by the end line. No card, but another golden opportunity for Barcelona here. Xavi finds a diving Puyol, but the header is fired right into Van Der Sar's waiting arms.
75 min: United sub: Paul Scholes on, Giggs off. Giggs has been invisible tonight, so Sir Alex opts to bring on the hero from last season's match against Barca.
78 min: United have gone from the favorites, to being 80/1 longshots to win. Crazier has happened though...remember the second leg of Liverpool/Chelsea? Ronaldo is booked for another foul on Puyol. He's been shut down by the Barca defense.
80 min: Scholes comes in with a nasty late challenge on Busquets, but advantage is called. Barcelona nearly makes it 3-0 before Busacca comes back to book Scholes. Replays make the challenge look even nastier; Scholes was very late and came in high as well.
83 min: Messi has been terrorizing United all evening, and it continues with a mad dash up the middle of the pitch. Evra is forced to foul him.
85 min: Barca is just toying with United right now, passing circles around them to a chorus of "Oles" from their fans. Puyol is played into the box and can't quite get it past Van Der Sar.
87 min: Puyol continues to exercise his dominance over the United forwards, clearing out yet another opportunity. The fans can sense it now.
90 min: United have to throw everybody forward but they still can't crack the Barcelona back line. We've got three minutes of stoppage time until the trophy is awarded.
90+1 min: Messi wins a corner for Barcelona. They refuse to sit back and soak up the pressure, instead forcing United to stay on their heels. This is a great strategy.
90+2 min: Barcelona sub: Iniesta off, Pedro on. Iniesta was brilliant again, setting up the first goal.
Full time: Busacca blows his whistle, and Barcelona lay claim to their third Champions League crown. What a great effort from the Catalans. We get a quick shot of "FC Barcelona" being engraved on the cup, and then it's on to the celebrations.
United won the first ten minutes of the match, but were clearly outclassed for the other 80. Their defense was no match for a full-strength Barcelona attack, and even a patchwork Barcelona back line was able to keep United at bay. It was a wonderful, comprehensive performance for Barcelona, and they're rewarded for a job well done.
Man of the Match
Carlos Puyol, for containing Ronaldo, Rooney, et al.
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