Barcelona Outclass United to be Crowned Champions of Europe

George Burns/DPA

Rome, May 28: Manchester United came to Rome looking to become the first side to successfully defend a Champions League title and also lay the foundations for an era of domination of European football.

Instead, Sir Alex Ferguson's side were handed a footballing lesson by Barcelona, who eased to a comfortable 2-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico thanks to goals in each half from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi.

The victory gives Pep Guardiola a historic treble of Spanish, King's Cup and Champions League in his first season as a coach, while also drawing Barca level with United on three European titles each.

Ferguson had talked of this United team having the talent to dominate European football for years to come before the match but once Eto'o opened the scoring for the Spanish side in the 10th minute, latching on to an Andres Iniesta pass before cutting inside Nemanja Vidic to score, the result was never in doubt.

Apart from the opening period until the Cameroonian forward's strike, when Cristiano Ronaldo saw his free-kick first saved by Victor Valdes and then cleared by Gerard Pique, United were chasing shadows.

The newly-crowned English champions failed to put in any kind of performance and were fortunate that Barcelona scored just once more, through a Messi header 20 minutes from the end.

Eto'o said that he dedicated the victory to all the club's fans.

"I believe I have to thank the whole team for the goal that I scored. They deserve the credit, not just me. It has been a long and difficult season, but I think we deserve this triple triumph, having also won the league and the cup."

Captain Carles Puyol added that the team was happy to be able to repay their fans' faith. "In the last couple of years we have suffered a lot. Now it is time for us to celebrate because we have worked very hard for this."

The Spanish King, Juan Carlos, said that he was very happy with the result. "I am delighted and satisfied with this victory and I am sure the whole of Spain is as well."

The early goal settled Barca, and apart from the odd shot from distance from Ronaldo, the Catalan side exerted sustained pressure with Messi firing over on 19 minutes and Xavi Hernandez also shooting narrowly wide.

"To lose a goal from a situation like that is a bad goal to lose. Tonight the defending was shoddy, the first goal gave them boost," said Ferguson, who brought on Anderson for the ineffectual Carlos Tevez at half-time.

However, if anything, Barca were even more dominant after the break.

In the opening five minutes after the restart, first Thierry Henry saw his effort well saved by Edwin van der Sar before Eto'o and Messi also went close.

In the 53rd minute, Xavi saw his powerful free-kick from outside the area crash against the upright and back into play.

United then came into the match a bit better and Wayne Rooney looked strong when going forward, but often found himself without enough help.

With some 25 minutes remaining Ferguson took off Ji-sung Park, who had been fairly ineffective for the Premier League side on either flank and brought on Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov.

Despite having four strikers on the pitch, United were still playing second fiddle and the deserved second goal finally came for Barcelona on 70 minutes when Xavi, who was voted man of the match, floated over a cross from the right for Messi to head home.

Ronaldo came close to pulling one back for the defending champions just a minute later as he had just Valdes to beat from close range, but the goalkeeper managed to block his effort.

The last chance of the game fell to Barcelona captain Carles Puyol, whose header however went straight into the arms of van der Sar.

In the final minutes of the game United seemed resigned to losing and showed their frustration with unnecessarily harsh tackles.

Italian referee Massimo Busacco was forced to book Ronaldo, substitute Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic.

The defending champions United, who went into the game having won all three previous finals in which they had appeared, had previously gone 25 games without defeat in the Champions League.

"I knew before the game what a good football team they are," said Ferguson, who called Guardiola's side one of the best he has come up against in Europe.

"It's a credit to them that they pursue their philosophy and don't change."

Meanwhile, Guardiola was as gracious in victory as Ferguson was in defeat.

"They had a bad day," he said. "They are a huge team, the best in the world."


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