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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United

Eto'o 10
Messi 70

He may have mellowed with age, enough at least to allow the dignitaries to slip a runners-up medal over his head while still smiling warmly, but Sir Alex Ferguson must be furious with the way that this Champions League final was allowed to drift away from him. Manchester United started so well, with so much confidence, but by the time that Swiss referee Massimo Busacca blew the final whistle, that early dominance was nothing but a fleeting memory.

Goals change games, as Arsenal fans found out after ten minutes of their semi-final second leg, but this time it was Manchester United who were left devastated by an early strike. Like Arsenal, they powered through the opening exchanges, but when Samuel Eto'o turned Nemanja Vidic inside out and smashed his shot through the hands of Edwin van der Sar, United visibly deflated. Barcelona had been like rabbits in front of the headlights as Cristiano Ronaldo led the white-shirted swarm of attacks, but suddenly they were transformed. Perhaps they had accepted the pre-match hype. Perhaps, like the rest of us, they were convinced that there was no space to operate in this most secure of English defences. We were all very, very wrong.

If it had been Thierry Henry or Samuel Eto'o who had risen like a Harrier Jump Jet in the United box to head home the crucial second goal, it might have been more acceptable. That it was tiny, diminutive Lionel Messi was utterly inconceivable. Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were as timid as they have been in years, always looking behind them for a backpass instead of stepping forward and distributing the ball. Forced to chase the game, John O'Shea and Patrice Evra pushed up to support what had become a 2-4-4 formation, but they left acres behind them for the Catalans to exploit. United's retention of possession was shambolic, their composure was non-existent and they can have no complaints whatsoever about the result.

Not that their failure to achieve even the simplest of tasks should take anything away from Barcelona. Lionel Messi finally gave a performance against an English side to justify his reputation in Spain. Thierry Henry rolled back the years to torment O'Shea and Xavi took control of the centre of the pitch, especially when United threw men forward in desperation. But head and shoulders above the rest, as he has been so often this season, was the exquisite Andres Iniesta. No pass was too difficult, no touch was too misjudged. Every ball he delivered was laser-guided to its target, cutting through the United defenders as if its course had been plotted months in advance. Iniesta has rarely received the recognition he deserves, but this performance will have left no-one in any doubt of his genius.

Ferguson, showing great class in defeat, rightly heralded Barcelona as the better team, but there was no mistaking the sadness behind his dignity. He knew that Manchester United had wasted their chance to close on Liverpool's five European titles. He knew that they had not fulfilled their potential and he knew that Manchester United had, ultimately, been the architects of their own downfall. His summer will feel like an eternity as he plots his revenge.


Crowd - 72,700
Yellow Cards - Pique (Barcelona) Ronaldo, Scholes, Vidic (Man Utd)
Red Cards - None
Barcelona -
Victor Valdes 7, Carlos Puyol 7, Gerard Pique 8, Yaya Toure 7, Sylvinho 7, Xavi 8, Sergio Busquets 7, Andres Iniesta 10 (Pedro Rodriguez 6, 90th), Thierry Henry 8 (Seydou Keita 7, 72nd), Samuel Eto'o 8, Lionel Messi 8
Manchester United -
Edwin van der Sar 7, John O'Shea 6, Patrice Evra 6, Rio Ferdinand 5, Nemanja Vidic 5, Anderson 5 (Carlos Tevez 6, 46th), Michael Carric 6, Ryan Giggs 6 (Paul Scholes 6, 75th), Ji-Sung Park 6 (Dimitar Berbatov 6, 66th), Wayne Rooney 6, Cristiano Ronaldo 7