How Barcelona Became 2009 Champions of Europe

Matthew MaloneyCorrespondent IMay 27, 2009

It's the second half of the second half of the final of the Champions League and Barcelona are 2-0 up in the biggest game in the history of the club against the reigning English, World, and European champions, Manchester United.

It is precisely at this point that 95 percent of club teams in world football would succumb to that temptation to just shut up shop.

But Barcelona are not just a club.

Suddenly, in an almost Carlos Alberto-like fashion (c. 1970) captain Carles Puyol pops up on the right wing to receive a delicately weighted ball by the maestro that is Xavi Hernandez following yet another mesmerizing passage of play from the Spanish champions...fortunately while he was not able to finish what would have been an extraordinary goal, the real damage had been before.

Needless to say, the daring and expressive ideals by which Pep Guardiola and his players have stood by through thin, and at times, even thinner, prevailed in this year's classic edition of the Champions League.

With this in mind, it's time to look back at the journey Barcelona took as they navigated what, on paper, seemed a tournament ripe for further English domination.

It all started in Group C for Barcelona. On paper, Barcelona drew a considerably favorable group with the Swiss champions Basel, the Ukranian champions Shakhtar Donetsk, and the Portugeese club Sporting Lisbon. Resounding victories in Basel (5-0) and Lisbon (5-2) were an omen of the brilliant attacking play that other teams were to later see (and fear) more of in La Liga and the 2009 CL.

Suffice to say Barcelona finished top of their group with a plus-10 goal difference while suffering their sole loss in this year's competition against Shakhtar (against which they played a weakened side having already qualified and against whom would later go on to win the last ever UEFA Cup.)

With the knockout rounds commencing in February, Barcelona were to next meet French champions Olympique Lyonnais. The first leg in France was to prove somewhat inconclusive with Henry returning to France to cancel out yet another of Juninho's specialty free kicks.

Of course, one of the enduring images from this tie was not of the events that were to transpire during the tie, but when the tie was actually drawn live at UEFA. Lyon officials (grown men, I presume) were clearly seen shaking their heads and letting out sighs of pain at the news they would face Barcelona...but these childish reactions were to be well-founded.

Barcelona destroyed Lyon 5-2 in the return leg, with Henry again proving he had no sympathy for some of his international teammates by scoring a brace, ending their dreams.

Next up were German champions and cup holders Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. In what was effectively to become the 45 minutes that ended Jurgen Klinnsman's comical tenure at Bayern, Barcelona scored four goals in another breathtaking display of class, technique, and daring at the Camp Nou.

Barcelona were through by halftime in the first leg.

A 1-1 dead rubber followed in Munich of course and preparations began in earnest for the coming semifinal clash with last year's unlucky finalists, English giants Chelsea, shortly after.

It would be somewhat of a euphemism to say Barcelona and Chelsea "had history" together, especially during Chelseas's Mourinho era. Football fans expected fireworks, and oh boy, there were many!

In what was to become a classic club tie between the two footballing philosophies that have continually struggled with each other for supremacy in football—that of Lo Joga Bonita (eulogised in Brazil) and of catenaccio or football by numbers (adhered to in Italy)—the first leg was to prove inconclusive. Barcelona dominated possession against a team of bodybuilders who were intent on keeping a clean sheet but doing their best not to score an away goal in the process.

The real controversy and fireworks began in Stamford Bridge however. Poor Norwegian referee Tom "You don't get penalties for going near the opposition penalty area with the ball" Overebo may go down in Chelsea football history infamy, but Iniesta's now classic wondergoal in extra time despite being reduced to 10 men will certainly live long in the memory of many a football fan.

It was to provide the difference between the sides. When the going became tough, Barcelona admirably stuck to their guns in an intensely hostile atmosphere and were rewarded.

Although Didier Droga was to afterwards utter the immortal words "Disgrace, a f*cking disgrace," in this author's view, with respect to Chelsa football club, Abramovich's Chelsea making it through would have been just that for the game.

And then the final tonight, 27/05/09. An altogether brief whirlwind unleashed by Manchester United in the first 20 minutes was to dissipate with Samuel Eto'o's goal against the run of play and afterwards, they never looked back. 

Lionel Messi proved he could head the ball by seconding Barcelona's by now, clear advantage in class in midfield after a beautifully curvaceous ball by Xavi. Xavi himself was to hit the post while a clearly unfit Henry was to torment a similarily unfit Rio Ferdinand in another opening. The best team won the final that everyone wanted.

And so after a unique treble, the questions must arise: is this the best Barcelona side to have won the European Cup? Better than the Rijkaard-Ronaldinho 2006 vintage? Better than Cruyff's dream team of 1992?

The answer is a tentative yes. Pep Guardiola has done what no rookie has done before and delivered Barcelona's finest ever season to the supporters and club. Henry, Messi (who will win this year's Ballon d'Or barring him embarking on a shotgun rampage or burning down an a girls orphanage) and Eto'o broke records galore with their goal-scoring prowess.

Also, it must be remembered that this is a triumph of homegrown football over petrodollars (cough* Chelsea, Man City). Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, and even Krkic made this treble triumph a distinctly Catalonian achievement. When people will talk of Jock Stein's famous Glasgow European champions years from now, Spain, and hopefully the world at large, will talk about Pep's Cataluian triumph.

As a club sponsored, for free by Unicef, I can honestly think of no other club which deserved to win the Champions League more this season just based on likability or aesthetic criteria.

The challenge now is to prove it belongs amongst the greatest teams of all time. It must do what no other club has done. It must retain the Champions League.