ROME — Barcelona stunned holders Manchester United to win their third Champions League crown with a 2-0 victory here last night.
Goals from star forwards Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi gave the Catalans a deserved victory and denied United from becoming the first team to retain the title since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1993.
It gave the Spaniards a unique treble having already won their domestic league and cup and meant they repeated a feat United achieved in 1999, which Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson had then claimed would never be matched.
It crowned a marvellous debut season for his Barcelona counterpart Pep Guardiola, who at 38 becomes the youngest coach to take European club football’s greatest prize.
For Thierry Henry it ended years of frustration especially when his then team Arsenal lost to Barcelona in the 2006 final.
“Finally I have won it! I have been waiting for so long for this moment,” said the France great, whose daughter celebrated her birthday as well yesterday.
“The last five minutes were the longest of my life. Even if we were 2-0 up we were playing the best team in the world (referring to the world club championship title United won earlier this year).”
Ferguson accepted defeat with good grace.
“We started the game brightly but the goal was a killer,” said the 67-year-old Scot, who looked to have had a good omen when one of his horses Last Three Minutes won a race earlier yesterday.
“However, they are a better team than us. We conceded two bad goals. Our defence has been good all season but those were two shoddy goals to lose.”
Barca overcame early jitters to dominate large parts of the game as the English club never managed to get their usual high-tempo game into gear.
In a clash billed as the match of the century pitting the best two teams in the world – with each one boasting one of the best two players in the world – only one played to their full potential.
And Ferguson may be questioning his team selection having left both Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez on the United bench as Ryan Giggs played off lone striker Cristiano Ronaldo with Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-Sung confined to disciplined roles on the flanks.
Both sides made a nervy start with Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes and United’s Park – the first ever Asian player to play in a Champions League final – playing passes straight into touch.
But United settled quickest and Ronaldo had a purple patch in which he terrorised the Spaniards for 10 minutes.
He hit a 25-yard free-kick that Valdes couldn’t hold and former United defender Gerard Pique had to dive in to deflect Park’s follow-up away for a corner.
Ronaldo then lashed a fierce long range drive wide and later, after controlling the ball on his chest, he hit a left-foot volley that sailed agonisingly inches past the post.
The reigning champions were enjoying all the ball and chances but out of the blue Barca took the lead.
Andres Iniesta played in Eto’o who beat Nemanja Vidic inside the box and although Michael Carrick slid in to try to block his shot, he succeeded only in helping it past Edwin van der Sar.
That goal settled Barca into their usual stride and they started to weave the pretty patterns that have been mesmerising opponents all season, carrying them to the remarkable feat of scoring more than 150 goals.
As the half wore on United gradually lost their shape and rhythm with Ferguson responding late on by pushing Rooney up alongside Ronaldo and Giggs out to the left.
Xavi tried his luck from a free-kick which, like Giggs’s earlier, was too high but by now Barca had wrested control of the game and were keeping the ball with alarming ease.
Ferguson wasted no time in switching tactics, bringing on Tevez for Anderson at the break and reverting to a more regular 4-4-2, the Argentine playing alongside Ronaldo and Giggs dropping back into a deeper role.
But Barca were first to strike on the counter as Henry cut in from the flank and left Ferdinand on the seat of his pants before shooting weakly at van der Sar on 48 minutes.
The Spaniards were totally in the ascendancy and Xavi fired a free-kick off the post on 53 minutes with van der Sar beaten as Barca threatened to run riot.
The reigning champions steadied the ship and Ferguson signalled his intent when he threw Berbatov on for Park with a quarter of the match remaining.
But just as the tide seemed to be turning, Barca extended their lead from the most unlikely source as Xavi picked out Messi at the back post on the edge of the six yard box, the Argentine wizard’s looping header arcing into the top corner on 70 minutes. — AFP.