Manchester United has the reigning FIFA player of the year. They have the defense and strength to keep the stallion of Barcelona at bay. They have the skill up front to beat Las Blaugranas. They are the best club in the best league on earth. They should win easily.
In a stunner, Barcelona shut out the Premier League Champion Manchester United 2-0 to capture the UEFA Champions League title. They became the first Spanish team to complete the treble, winning La Liga, Copa del Rey, and the CL title.
The result wasn’t stunning. The way in which it was achieved was, at least for this admittedly casual fan.
Most experts picked Manchester to win by imposing their will on Barcelona—and they did just that.
For nine-and-a-half minutes.
Manchester came out guns a-blazin’. They nearly scored in the second minute when 2008 FIFA player of the year and heartthrob Cristiano Ronaldo sent a wicked free kick bending in towards goal from 32 meters. Barca keeper Victor Valdez, not surprisingly, had trouble with it. But after bobbling it, the threat was cleared.
But Man U kept coming. They came with a ferocity that Barcelona hadn’t seen thus far in this tournament. They were physical. Barca seemed on their heels.
Enter the hero (or villain, if you are a Chelsea supporter) of Stamford Bridge.
Andres Iniesta put a brilliant pass onto the boot of Samuel Eto’o, one of the world’s best finishers. From there, Eto’o turned Man U center back Nemanja Vidic like a top and pushed the game winner past Edwin van der Sar.
The keeper had no chance.
United were stunned. They had thrown their best shot at Barcelona, and not only had Barca not blinked, they scored.
Manchester were not the same after.
They put up the good fight, getting an injection of life from the entrance of Carlos Tevez to start the second half. But the match had a feel of eventuality to it when Xavi hit the post on a free kick in the 54th minute.
Barcelona was going to win. It was just a matter of by how much.
When 2009 FIFA player of the year Lionel Messi (it’s going to happen, I’m crowning him now) put in a masterfully outswinging pass from (who else?) Xavi, the eventuality turned to a near certainty.
When Barcelona is putting headers in, you know things are going well.
At the end of the evening, Josep Guardiola became only the sixth person ever to play for as well as manage a CL winner. He also became the youngest manager to ever win the Champions League.
Lionel Messi led all goal scorers in the tournament with nine, and veteran striker Thierry Henry finally added the line to his already impressive résumé that has eluded him for so long.
UEFA Champions League winner.
Is this Barcelona club the best ever? That is a question for someone far more experienced than this writer. But one thing is certain: It is the best club this year.
What a glorious ride.
VISCA EL BARCA!