LONDON - The midfield machine behind
Spain's first World Cup success ticked back into the same
relentless rhythm to deliver Barcelona's fourth European Cup
triumph at a spellbound Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
Technically, tactically and temperamentally superior, and
with the genius of Lionel Messi to provide the coup de grace,
Barca crushed Manchester United with the simple logic that
without the ball you can't do your opponents a lot of damage.
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It must have been a depressingly familiar feeling for Sir Alex
Ferguson and the eight members of the starting XI that had also
begun the final in Rome two years ago, as Barcelona completed a
3-1 victory that might easily have been a far higher margin.
Then, as now, the English side began by snapping at Catalan
heels and threatening to exploit a defence with just a hint of
vulnerability about it.
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Then, as now, it took barely 10 minutes for the Barcelona
midfield to exert their authority and carry the team to a
comprehensive two-goal victory.
Unlike in Rome, when United were beaten 2-0, the english
side recovered from a first-half goal to equalise as Wayne
Rooney wafted in a fine shot after starting the move himself.
If there was any hint that they might go on to triumph
despite having only a passing acquaintance with the ball it was
disabused by a ruthless second-half Barcelona display.
It fell to the three strikers to score the three goals -
Messi following up Pedro's first-half opener by scoring the
second himself and helping create the third for David Villa with
an outrageous turn past substitute Nani on the right - but this
was a triumph built on the extraordinary work done in midfield.
Xavi continually dropped deep to work his way forward,
finding space where none appeared to exist thanks to the
deftness of his touch and eye for the right pass - the
inevitable pass as it seems when you watch the replay.
Iniesta, the man who scored the winning goal in last year's
World Cup final victory over Netherlands in South Africa,
maintained the same passing rhythm while both looked to feed
Messi in central areas outside the penalty area.
Xavi completed 124 of 136 passes, while Iniesta found his
intended target 98 times out of 107.
Barcelona enjoyed 63 percent of the possession and it would
have been much higher had they not felt comfortable enough to
relax the rhythm over the closing minutes thanks to that
There was no surprise in any of this, nothing Ferguson and
everyone else has not seen on countless other occasions watching
Spain and Barcelona, but the execution was so good that the
United manager acknowledged his side had been left helpless.
"I think it was obvious what happened tonight," Ferguson
said. "We knew we were up against a good team before the game
and planned as best we could.
"But they do mesmerise you with their passing and we never
really controlled Messi. Of course, many people have said that."
If Ferguson was being oppressed by a sense of deja vu, his
Barca counterpart was revelling in familiar surrounds.
It was at the old Wembley that Barcelona won their first
European Cup in 1992, helped by a skinny midfielder who learned
first-hand from then-coach Johan Cruyff that it is through the
greedy accumulation of possession that trophies are won.
Pep Guardiola was an outstanding player for Barca, the
classic deep-lying, ball-playing midfielder, but as a manager he
has touched greater heights.
Based around Xavi, the man groomed to replace him, his
Barcelona team played with something close to perfection on
Saturday, securing a second Champions League win in three years.
"It's the way we played I'm most proud of," Guardiola said
in a fitting summation of his philosophy.
"It isn't easy to play like this but we have managed it and
I'm very happy tonight. It was a very good result."
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