Before last night’s final with Barcelona, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believed there was a “solution” to stop any player, even Lionel Messi.
His team failed to find an answer to the passing of Xavi Hernandez and the skill of Messi, who combined to give the Spanish league title holder a 3-1 win and a fourth European Cup.
Messi and Xavi embraced each other after the final whistle at London’s Wembley Stadium. Xavi completed 91 percent of his passes, including the one that created the opening goal for Pedro Rodriguez. Messi slammed in the second, before his run led to David Villa getting the third. Wayne Rooney had tied the match with a first-half goal.
“They do mesmerize you with their passing, and we never really controlled Messi,” Ferguson said after the game. The manager, who’s collected 12 Premier League titles and two European Cups in 26 years with the Red Devils, said the current Barcelona team is the greatest he’s ever faced. “No one’s given us a hiding like that. It’s great moment for them, they deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football.”
Barcelona beat United in the championship game in Rome in 2009 to give its coach Josep Guardiola a sweep of Champions League, Spanish cup and national championship in his first year. Guardiola said this year’s team is better than that one, singling out Messi for special praise.
“Lionel is the best player I’ve seen, probably the best I’ll ever see,” Guardiola said about the diminutive striker who moved to Barcelona in his early teens to tackle a growth disorder. He’s the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year and is likely to get the accolade again after scoring more than 50 goals this season as Barcelona also added a third straight Spanish championship.
Xavi was Barcelona’s standout player in the first half. The midfielder completed his first 40 passes before cutting the United defense apart with a pass that allowed Pedro to slot past Edwin Van der Sar after 27 minutes. His combinations with Messi and Andres Iniesta, which Ferguson once described as a ‘carousel’, kept United pressed back as Barcelona looked the most likely to get the next goal.
Rooney exchanged passes with Giggs to bring United level against the game’s momentum with a shot from inside the area that Ferguson described as a “lifeline.”
Messi became the biggest threat after halftime. He regularly got into dangerous areas by dancing through challenges to create openings for teammates.
A minute after Evra deflected his goal bound effort away with his head, Messi came back in the 54th minute. The Argentine national team forward took three touches before slamming a left-footed shot from outside the area into the bottom corner for his 12th goal in 14 Champions League matches.
Van der Sar, who was in goal for the last time in his career, conceded again ten minutes later. Messi created panic with another surging run before Sergio Busquets laid the ball off for David Villa to curl in from the edge of the box.
Such was Barcelona’s dominance it was able to bring on club captain Carles Puyol to play in his third winning European Cup final after being part of the winning team in 2006. At the game’s end Puyol gave his captain’s armband to Eric Abidal, a French national team player who underwent surgery on a liver tumor earlier this season. The defender was given the honor of collecting the trophy from UEFA President Michel Platini to roars from the Spanish team’s fans.
“For two-and-a-half months a player who had a tumor is the one we have to say most suffered,” Guardiola said. “Players are human beings and you have to look at the human being too. Whether you win or lose you have to look at a human quality.”
The 40-year-old coach, a former Barcelona captain, said he’d see out the remaining year of his contract with the Spanish champion. He agreed with Ferguson that he’ll never manage a team as talented when he leaves.
“My future will be very tough, very difficult because where are these kind of players? Where can you find them?”