No contest in Rome

Today’s Champion’s League final between Barcelona and Manchester United was probably the most highly anticipated showdowns of my 30 plus years of following international club football. Not for ten years (since Man U played Bayern Munich) had the final featured two newly crowned league champions. And, unlike in 1999, these teams came from the two indisputably top leagues in European football. Moreover, Bayern for all the virtues of its 1999 club, did not have five world class megastars in attack, as Barca does (Henry, Messi, E’too, Iniesta, and Xavi). And Man U wasn’t the defending European champion ten years ago, as it was today.

But where Man U and Bayern produced a match for the ages (United winning 2-1 on two last minute goals), Man U and Barca produced a one-sided encounter dominated by the Catalonian giants, who prevailed 2-0.

The heroes turned out not to be the attackers (though E’too and Messi scored the goals), but rather the make-shift central defensive pairing of Yaya Toure and Gerard Pique (formerly of Man U), along with Carlos Puyol, filling in at right back. For me Puyol was the man-of-the-match, containing Rooney in the first half and Ronaldo in the second, assisting on one goal, and nearly scoring another. Puyol, Iniesta, and Xavi have now won the 2009 Champions League and Euro 2008. They will try to add the World Cup next year.

As for United, they played great for the first ten minutes and then, somehow, seemed to fold after Barca scored on its first real attack. Their passing was unbelievably poor, especially that of the normally sound playmaker, Michael Carrick.

Barca adds the Champions League crown to its Spanish League title and its triumph in the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey) — an historic triple to match Man United’s triple of 1999. This year’s Barcelona team will be remembered as one of the greatest club sides ever.

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