Champions League Finals :Zidane/ Shevchenko/Gerrard/Xavi & Suarez

2001

Kahn, Lizarazu, Effenberg deserve Champions Cup victory

23rd May 2001

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Bayern Munich 1 Valencia 1

Bayern win 5-4 after sudden death penalties

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Real Madrid versus Arsenal would have been a far better game!

This was the dullest European Cup Final since Forest-Malmo in 1979 – worse than Steaua Bucharest v Barcelona.There was no football played because all the strikers were dummies, cheats and donkeys.

Ref Dick Jol gave Valencia a soft early penalty for handball and Mendieta buried it. Effenberg took a dive over Angloma’s knee to get another pen within five minutes but Scholl missed it, hitting the legs of Canizares.

Effenberg equalised just after half-time, another ridiculous penalty decision, an inadvertent handball by Carboni after sub Jancker fouled him.

Abysmal forward play by both sides – Elber a lazy , diving cheat, Carew a clumsy blunt instrument, Juan Sanchez utterly anonymous, Scholl more peripheral than he has ever been in his entire career, Kily Gonzales having a nightmare, and Aimar utterly clueless, the baby I always said he was in both previews of the Arsenal games.

Do I ever get sick of being right, you might ask?

Well, I was wrong about Valencia’s attack. I thought Valencia would lose, but I reckoned they would play a lot more footbal, even against the stifling cobweb of bodies that Hitzfeld placed in their path. Baraja, Carew, Aimar and Sanchez were boys, not men, so Valencia just faded into grey oblivion in extra time. Bayern were not much better.

I sat there moaning and saying : How did we lose to both of these?

Bayern and Valencia played like losing semi-finalists.

This prestige game needed a Rivaldo, a Shevchenko, a Figo,a Vieira or Zidane to light it up. But there was only Kahn, who made those three priceless saves in a seven round shoot-out.

God, Bayern are dull. They need new blood. They need six new players.

BAYERN MUNICH: Kahn, Sagnol, Lizarazu, Kuffour, Andersson, Linke, Salihamidzic, Scholl, Elber, Effenberg,Hargreaves. Subs: Dreher, Sforza, Sergio, Tarnat, Jancker, Zickler, Santa Cruz.

VALENCIA: Canizares,Angloma, Pellegrino, Ayala, , Carboni,Mendieta, Baraja,Kily Gonzalez, Aimar, Carew, Sanchez Subs: Palop, Deschamps, Djukic, Zahovic, Vicente, Albelda, Aurelio.

2002

 

Zidane has won everything now

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Real Madrid 2 Bayer Leverkusen 1

Raul 9, Lucio 14, Zidane 45

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Roberto Carlos proved me wrong by making both goals!

First with a 40-yard throw to Raul, whose shot dribbled past frozen keeper Butt.

The Germans had not heeded a previous long throw from Carlos to Raul three minutes before.I thought : WAKE UP! Footballers can be so annoying. It was sheer stupidity to be caught by something so basic twice in three minutes.

Second goal :taking Solari’s inspired pass down the flank, Roberto Carlos hooked it across to Zidane, who had nobody within 10 yards of him and Zidane sent a colossal left-foot volley looping into the near side of the goal just on half-time.

In between the second and third goals we saw a very good match for half an hour.

LUCIO, one of the world’s most exciting footballers, headed in Schneider’s free-kick from the left for 1-1.

Facially, Figo was suffering. You could see the pain and doubt on his face. He should NOT have been out there. He is not fit. He’s two yards slower than he was at Barcelona.

Leverkusen were wonderfully brave minnows with a great shape, good habits, sometimes using three passes where Arsenal would use one, but always three sharp, quick passes.Their push-and-run style and compact shape served them well as they outplayed the flickering stars in all-white.

After 42 minutes I was thinking that if Real Madrid had more of the ball they could give it to Zidane, who wasn’t in the game. Because Figo was crocked, the axis of the team was Roberto Carlos servicing Raul with 30-yard passes.And long throws.

Then Zidane scored a spectacular goal that will be shown for decades.

But I never thought it was over. Seven minutes of stoppage time were played. Keeper Butt came up for a header that bounced down and up and over the bar. Casillas, on as a sub for the ankle-injured Cesar, cleared two off the line with his legs in a hectic finale.

So Real Madrid won their ninth European Cup and the beautiful losers went home wondering how different it might have been with Ze Roberto, who was suspended, and skipper-stopper Nowotny, who is injured. Berbatov missed an easy header, Kirsten is over the hill, Neuville faded, so did Basturk, and Real started to boss the game.

But they never bossed it totally.They had to sweat for the big bauble they love to call their own.

Zidane,who lost two finals with Juventus,made it third time lucky.

Failure can scar a man but Zizou’s Dortmund nightmares might ease off for a while after this triumph.

A hat-trick of losing finals might have made the big Berber neurotic.

He can relax now and he may even come back down to earth in time for Senegal on Friday 31st May.

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2003

Shevchenko supercool in Theatre of Penalties

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 AC Milan 0 Juventus 0

The Juventus fans are on our left and the Milan fans are on our right and Denis Law and Ian Rush are sitting three rows behind us.

Before kick-off Law and Rush chat to Mike Atherton, who is sitting behind them.

It’s nice to be here at Old Trafford

Four VIPs have dropped out, so we drop into their seats.

It’s fun because it’s a one-off.

Let’s face it, I’m never gonna be at another European Cup Final with my best friend Doug and my son Michael, who has come over from university in Sheffield, and Doug’s son Matt.

I remember the day Matt was born even if I don’t remember the year. It was the day of the Borg-Nastase Wimbledon final and we watched the first two sets on TV then walked up to the Royal Free to see Kate and the new baby. So it’s lovely for the four of us to be here together and it’s nice for Clarence Seedorf to have a chance of a historic triple and it’s nice for Paulo Maldini to have a crack at a fourth winner’s medal nine years after his third and it’s very, very nice for every player who has never been to this final before, after a lifetime of trying.

And it’s exciting to see one of my favourite players again, the Ukrainian powerhouse who did not qualify for France 98 or Euro 2000 or Korea-Japan 2002.

Of all the people who are glad to be here tonight, I guess Andriy Shevchenko is the gladdest. And he scores early on, a terrific move started by Seedorf, lovely run by Rui Costa, a cute cross by Inzaghi, Shev blasts left-footed and it deflects in off Ferrara and the Milan fans in front of us go wild and then I notice one is angry and making that up-flicking arm gesture, signalling his disgust.

THE GOAL HAS BEEN DISALLOWED !!!!

I was watching Shevchenko celebrating and didn’t realise the flag was up.

My overall impression of the game is: familiarity.

The players know each other too well. It’s odd that the noise is continuous, not related to the action, whereas in an English game the noise rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the play. Italian fans are used to waiting. They bring with them a deep understanding of the character of their teams, the mentality of Serie A,the pride and history of their great clubs.

The atmosphere is weird, hard to describe.At one point I turn to Michael and say, “Its like a gigantic family outing!”

It’s as if this gathering of 63,000 people is a jolly, festive mingling of brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and fathers and mothers and uncles and cousins. That’s what it felt like to me, a non-Italian.

I was thinking : If one of these clubs had been from a different country, the atmosphere would not be like this. It would be more hostile, more normal.

German referee Markus Merk has no time for crybabies, so he waves play on after some hard tackles, gets a couple wrong, but has a tremendous game, preventing the action from bogging down.

Milan are more stylish, more artistic, more willing to put the ball up for grabs, more concerned with penetration than possession, Seedorf and Kaladze always looking to release Shevchenko with accurate 30-yard passes.

When Conte comes on for Camoranesi at half-time, my comment is, “It’s a team of old men, so they bring on another old man.”

Inside a minute, Conte has a diving header that hits the bar from Del Piero’s deadly cross, and after that the Juve fans are louder, clapping in unison and banging drums and twirling scarves and the momentum builds up and up and this big machine starts to grind relentlessly down the field like a massive black-and-white bulldozer with a 60-yard shovel on the front, threatening to push Berlusconi’s all-white superstars off the road. I’m thinking : Juve will score soon.

Milan have more skill and more ideas but they will wear themselves out by battering on a locked door- and then the patient pros of Juve will nick it.

Juve miss the verve of Nedved, his explosive incursions into the last third and they lose urgency when Edgar Davids goes off injured after 65.

His sparky interceptions, sharp passes and hard-driving runs are badly missed because Davids can win the ball and start a move and pass and get it back and make things happen. The Pitbull never scores but he is very dynamic, a warrior with skill.

Both defences are superb, Nesta so quick and agile, Ferrara concentrating so hard. But I don’t change my mind about any of the players, except Kaladze,who hits probing, lofted passes for his mate Shev. Kaladze’s early shot had Buffon making a solid save at his near post.A lesser player would bottle that chance from 20 yards, or shoot wide. But Kaladze wallops it hard and low and it is going in. He makes Buffon work.

That Kaladze-Buffon moment encapsulates the game: it is NOT dull,defensive stagnation. It is football where powerful forces of imagination and flair are met by equally strong forces of organisation and stubbornness.

Doug has been enjoying the game in the same way.

“I’ll tell you who I’ve changed my mind about,” he says. “Gattuso.”

“Good, isn’t he ?” I reply.

“Fantastic!”

But full-time comes and extra time ends and it’s been two hours without a goal.

FIRST HOUR? Brilliant football.

SECOND HOUR? Dull.

We now have the Theatre of Penalties.

Trezeguet trudges from centre circle to the penalty spot like a condemned man.We are watching the body language of failure. DT has missed before he puts the ball on the spot.

Serginho sweeps his reply home in imperious style, sending Buffon the wrong way.

1-0 to Milan and I say, “That’s  how to take a penalty!”

Birindelli makes it 1-1, sends Dida the wrong way.

Buffon reads Seedorf’s penalty, saves it, still 1-1.

Zalayeta hits Dida’s leg, still 1-1.

Kaladze bangs his down the middle,Buffon saves, still 1-1

Montero hits Dida’s legs, still 1-1.

FOUR PENALTIES IN A ROW HAVE BEEN SAVED !

Nesta makes it 2-1 but Buffon goes the right way.

Del Piero levels at 2-2 to keep Juve alive, rolls a sweet, classy shot into the corner.

After nine penalties the score is 2-2 and 25 cameras are bringing this game to half a billion people in 160 countries and if Shevchenko scores it’s over and he slots it and races away to his left, our side of the pitch, to embrace Dida as the all-whites race after him from the halfway line,

Ambrosini and Gattuso leading the charge.

I love Shevchenko for his courage, his power, his skills, his all-round game, his spirit, his consistency, his ambition, his perseverance.

They once asked him, “Andriy, why do you live in town when all the other players live in the suburbs ?”

And he said, “So my Mum can walk to the shops.”

The Milanistas go wild with joy and the podium is erected and the losers get their medals from Lennart Johansson,the No1. good guy in world football administration, and then the winners come up and the biggest winner of them all, Paulo Maldini, lifts the big-handled shining bauble every player wants to hold up.

It’s a moment which closes a circle for me because I bunked off Alleyne’s Grammar School to see AC Milan play Benfica. Wembley’s first European Cup Final was played in THE AFTERNOON in front of 45,000 people.

Not everybody was as excited by continental football as me and my pal Dave Rogers, a half back with Stevenage Athletic, a youth team. Also, people were at work.

The 4-5-6 halfback line was Benitez, a technical South American dynamo, Maldini, an elegant centre-half, and Trapattoni, a tidy left half who looked like a movie star.

Eusebio scored the first goal, Rivera missed three, Altafini scored two,Coluna, cruelly crippled, was a giant on one leg, and the statuesque Cesare Maldini held up the European Cup.

So Wednesday night brought me full circle and Maldini and Maldini, 1963 and 2003, are the bookends in my 40 years as a football fan. On the night, the best team won and Shevchenko deserves this success And so does Seedorf, who shows immense initiative and authority, winning balls that I didn’t expect him to win, taking it off Thuram, even. Seedorf was marvellous, a stocky, industrious creator with his waddling run and magic feet, always trying to supply Shevchenko, and crossing perfectly to give Inzaghi a bullet header that only Buffon could have saved.

Seedorf rose to the occasion.What an opportunity, to become the first player to win it with three different clubs.

Nobody will do that again because no footballer will be good enough to play for three teams as omnipotent as Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan.

And even if they are that good they won’t be lucky enough to win three out of three. Del Piero has only won one out of four.

AC MILAN have won six European Cups.

Real Madrid have won nine, Liverpool four, Man United two,Nottingham Forest two, Aston Villa and Celtic one each.

WHAT DO ARSENAL HAVE TO DO TO WIN ONE? Sign a great goalkeeper – and take defending more seriously.

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AC MILAN: Dida,Costacurta (Roque Junior 65), Nesta, Maldini,Kaladze, Gattuso, Rui Costa (Ambrosini 87), Seedorf, Pirlo (Serginho 70), Shevchenko, Inzaghi.

Subs Not Used: Abbiati, Rivaldo, Laursen, Brocchi.

Booked: Costacurta.

JUVENTUS : Buffon, Ferrara, Montero, Tudor (Birindelli 42),Zambrotta, Thuram, Tacchinardi, Davids (Zalayeta 65), Camoranesi (Conte 45), Del Piero, Trezeguet.

Subs Not Used: Chimenti, Pessotto, Iuliano, Di Vaio.

Booked: Tacchinardi, Del Piero.

 

2005

 

Liverpool bounce back in Istanbul to beat AC Milan

AC Milan 3 Liverpool 3 – Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties

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THE COMEBACK of all time.

Don’t mention Manchester United in 1999.

United were not 3-0 down to Bayern Munich.

A wild night of despair and joy, a seesaw night of passion and drama, a night of six goals and nine penalties, a night when fans in 169 countries saw all the surprises that a football match can contain, a night when after the fourth goal I thought it could finish 3-2 and 3-2 would be heroic failure but when it went to 3-3 we all thought : Bloody hell ! Anything can happen here!

Liverpool winning their fifth European Cup changes the balance in English football, makes it more interesting.

Wenger had a good season. Moyes had a good season. Ferguson had a bad season. Chelsea, spending £212m on players in two years and winning two trophies, had a good season.

But Liverpool winning the big one changes the balance.

THE LAST MATCH of the season turned out to be the most dramatic match of the season – and it contained the worst selection decision of the season.

Rafa Benitez, how could you drop Didi Hamann for Harry Kewell ?

Tacticians sometimes over-think it. The bigger the game, the more likely they are to over-think it. Rafa wanted to attack from the start, have Luis Garcia and Kewell moving onto flicks by Baros.

But that game-plan went down the toilet after 52 seconds when Maldini scored. Djimi Traore fouls Kaka on the right. The free-kick is well-rehearsed, Pirlo popped the ball exactly where Maldini expected it. Maldini wants to keep his shot down and he over-compensates by volleying into the ground, but it bounces into the net.

On 39, Luis Garcia looks for a penalty when Nesta is on the ground but it’s ball to elbow and Milan break and Kaka releases Shevchenko on the right and his low cross reaches Crespo at the far post and he makes it 2-0 from six yards.

On 44,Gerrard jabs a risky ball up to Baros and it hits Pirlo, who volleys to Cafu, who gives it smartly back and Pirlo finds Kaka, who executes a lightning dancer’s turn to evade Gerrard and spurts to the halfway line and measures a very long killer pass beyond Carragher and Crespo stabs home with a true predator’s flourish from the edge of the box.

It is Milan 3 Liverpool 0 and Sky’s Andy Gray said, “Game well and truly over, and I hate saying that.”

Crespo’s second goal is a 9 second goal, from Pirlo to the back of the net.

Milan’s organisation is super-professional, their game-plan very smart.

Kaka, 22, had a fantastic first half. The perfect Milan player : good-looking, fast, deadly skill, sees it all so early, like Bergkamp.

One touch to evade Gerrard, his next touch is the defence-splitting pass to set up one-touch finish by Crespo. Football does not get better than this.

HALF-TIME, Liverpool were three goals down and I wondered if it would be 7-0 and I said, “Chelsea could have given them a game.”

We did not know then that the Liverpool players saw and heard the Milan players already celebrating in the dressing room, singing and shouting.

SECOND HALF starts with Hamann on for Finnan and the game became totally different.

Benitez went to three at the back and suddenly Xabi Alonso, Riise and Hamann could push further up the pitch and take the game to Milan.

Suddenly Liverpool had shape, possession, fluidity, confidence.John Arne Riise is some player. I always wish he had come to Arsenal. Riise hits a cross, blocked by Cafu, rebounds back to him, he hits a better cross, loads of pace on it, fairly flat towards the penalty spot and Gerrard gets up well and places a power header into the postage stamp. What a header!

Action man. Gladiator. Roy of the Rovers, an English centre forward’s goal, a Bryan Robson goal out of nowhere. Gerrard is big and great in the air. He is not one of the world’s best players but he IS one of the world’s most dynamic players.

The 3-2 goal is a howler by Dida and the turning point of the game.

Liverpool pass it across midfield, Xabi to Hamann and Seedorf gets in Hamann’s face so he passes square again to Smicer who blasts a 20-yard shot that Dida should have saved. BAROS flicked a clever ball into Gerrard’s stride and Gattuso just brushed him and brought him down.

Dida saved Xabi Alonso’s penalty but he followed up and smacked it in for 3-3.

LIVERPOOL HAVE SCORED THREE GOALS IN 7 MINUTES !

I wanted Cisse to come on sooner, even though I didn’t know what he could do.In 84, Cisse came on with black graphics on the back of his skull.

“His hairdresser’s been busy, ” said Jan.

“Travels with him,” I said.

“Really?”

“No, I’m kidding.”

Some of Milan’s defending, passing, heading and movement was absolutely fabulous, but Liverpool played some great stuff too and the game was packed full of good things, like Carragher’s great tackle in the box in 87 to deny Shevchenko.

Extra time was exciting.

BEFORE THE PENALTIES, Carragher screamed at Dudek, winding him up to wave his arms madly, do a Grobbelaar.Brilliant !

  1. Serginho, freaked out by Dudek, fires over.
  2. Hamann scores
  3. Pirlo shot saved by Dudek, 2 yards off his line

4. Cisse scores

  1. Tomasson also scores
  2. Riise sidefoot shot saved near the post

7. Kaka slots supercool penalty

  1. Smicer scores
  2. Shevchenko blows it.

Four days after Arsenal score five immaculate penalties in Cardiff, the maestros of AC Milan miss three out of four in Istanbul.

Shevchenko had just seen Dudek make a magnificent and lucky double save.

Dudek saved his header and luckily diverted his rebound stab from two yards, but Sheva takes the worst penalty you will ever see by a truly great player, dinking it down the middle and Dudek dives right and palms it down with his left hand ! Shearer would have blasted that ball AND Dudek into the back of the net.

ON THE NIGHT, Dudek was far better than Dida.

The Milan team needs freshening up. Maybe they will replace Seedorf, Dida, Pirlo.

THURSDAY MORNING I go to the gym and Ben’s in reception.

An Arsenal fan doing sports science at Liverpool University, his term just ended. He said, “My mate phoned at half-time and he was crying. He called me from the bar of Liverpool University Union. There was no background noise, normally there’s so much noise and singing. It was dead quiet.”

DID YOU SEE THAT own-up quote from Gerrard?

Stevie G said (from memory): “I’ve had a bad season, I’ve been great and I’ve been crap.” Love it ! Humility! He is singing a new tune! Gerrard knows he has to improve.

He had a rubbish Euro 2004 because Chelsea messed with his head, offering him £120,000 a week.

All season we’ve heard : Are Liverpool good enough for me ?

LIVERPOOL must replace Didi Hamman with someone who can read the game and make hundreds of tackles. Xabi Alonso’s pass selection is awesome. He might become Liverpool’s best player since Dalglish. Just a shame that Britain no longer produces players as great as Rush, Souness, Hansen and Dalglish.

The only current British player of that calibre is Wayne Rooney – and Rooney can never play for Liverpool.

NO MORE TO SAY, really.

Rafa Benitez is a really nice person and an A-list tactician.

And tacticians win European trophies.

Liverpool need new directors, new investment. They are not the best team in Europe. They are not even in the top ten. They are not even the best team on Merseyside yet. They are better than Bolton, just. Liverpool have a long way to go to become the best team in Europe.

BUT THIS WAS HISTORIC.

Uefa took the 50th European Cup Final to the city where Asia meets Europe and Istanbul saw the greatest comeback of all time. The last match of the season turned out to be the best match of the season, partly because it contained the worst selection decision of the millennium.

But what a night ! This was the Sixties re-visited.

In 1963 Puskas scored a hat-trick but Benfica came back to beat Real Madrid 5-3.

In 1967 Celtic’s Lisbon Lions were underdogs when they came back to beat Inter Milan 2-1.

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LIVERPOOL (4-4-1-1): Dudek; Finnan (Hamann, 45), Hyypia, Carragher, Traoré; Garcia, Alonso, Gerrard, Riise; Kewell (Smicer, 23); Baros (Cissé, 84).

Subs not used: Carson (gk), Josemi, Nunez, Biscan.

MILAN (4-3-1-2): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Stam, Maldini; Gattuso (Rui Costa, 112), Pirlo, Seedorf (Serginho, 84); Kaka; Shevchenko, Crespo (Tomasson, 84).

Subs not used: Abbiati (gk), Kaladze, Costacurta, Dhorasoo.

Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain).

 

2011

 

Barcelona’s collective artistry made Man United look like journeymen

30th May 2011

Barcelona 3 Manchester United 1

Pedro 27, Rooney 34, Messi 54, Villa 69

When this final kicked off, Ji-Sung Park got a tackle in and United had a good spell.

We saw 12 minutes of red devilry.

That was followed by an 82-minute masterclass.

At the start, Park nicked the ball from Dani Alves, Chicharito  pinched it from  Busquets, Fabio clattered Iniesta mercilessly, Park blocked a Dani Alves pass for a throw, the Mexican forced Victor Valdes to kick the ball out, Park won the ball off Messi in centrefield, Valdes had to clear from the Mexican when Pique froze, Vidic blocked a David Villa shot.

All that was pretty typical from United, who like to generate physical momentum.

But after the 12th minute they hardly got a kick, really. After 15, Xavi showed us the shape of things to come, whipping a cross to the near post, where Pedro made a clumsy connection.

After that hectic opening, Xavi, Messi and Iniesta controlled the game, United’s midfield was swamped, Javier Hernandez was invisible, and when United squeezed narrow to defend against a possible Messi dribble, Xavi rifled a crossfield pass to the unmarked Pedro, who took one touch and scored.

Vidic hardly had a ball to head all night because Barcelona took short corners every time. He had a storming first half but was stranded when Xavi’s pass revealed that Evra had gone AWOL, allowing Pedro to slot for 1-0 .

The same Xavi pass had found David Villa three minutes earlier but he muffed the chance. The first time Pedro switched from left to right, he scored.

Wayne Rooney got the goal back within seven minutes, although the time between the goals seemed much longer to me.Good move after an Abidal throw, Fabio to Rooney to Giggs, who was half a yard offside, Giggs switched it sweetly square and Rooney sidefooted the ball beyond the helpless Victor Valdes from 14 yards.

Goals often change games but that one didn’t.

Indeed, United seemed surprised  to score. At half-time I didn’t think Man United could improve, I just wondered what would happen when Giggs and Carrick ran out of legs.

Second half, Giggs and Park switched but  that didn’t work because ball-chasing doesn’t work against Xavi, Messi and Iniesta, who can pass round you all night long. When Iniesta gave Messi a square pass, he scooted behind Park and  whacked in  a low shot from 25 yards. Vidic had become too befuddled to charge down that Messi shot before it flew low past Edwin van der Sar into the middle of his goal to make it 2-1. Good shot but the keeper was culpable.

Messi’s goal finished the game in 54 and everybody knew it, including Sir Alex.

I’ve never seen Messi celebrate like that. It’s usually a little grin and shy acceptance of the hugs and kisses. For once, Messi was manic. He shouted, punched the air, kicked a microphone, booted the advertising boards, kept on shouting.  He’d never scored in England and now he had fired the winner in the biggest final of the season. A wriggling dribble by Messi, beating sub Nani, led to David Villa making it 3-1 with a typical curler from outside the box in 69.

Amazingly, this final was so one-sided that United had no corners and no shots on target after Rooney’s equaliser.

We saw why keeper Victor Valdes is the right goalkeeper for Barcelona, just as Bruce Grobbelaar was the right keeper for Liverpool in the Eighties.

Excellent final, four good goals, no controversy.

Very straightforward, really. The world’s finest team outclassed a United side that had won the EPL by nine points. Power and muscle failed embarrassingly as Manchester’s gladiators were given the runaround by an exceptional team of small craftsmen who could have won 6-1.

Having spent the week mouthing off, Patrice Evra became a caricature of himself, like Roberto Carlos at his embarrassing worst, huffing and puffing up the flank and being caught out of position.

Pep Guardiola is clearly in charge. He’s realistic and pragmatic and not sentimental about his older players. He obviously told his captain Carles Puyol :You\re not playing, I need Mascherano to cover the pace of Rooney and Hernandez.  When the game was over at 3-1, he brought his club captain on to lift yet another trophy.

Sir Alex got his team and his bench and his substitutions gloriously wrong, so the 56th European Cup Final was never close.

Michael Owen for the last 10 minutes when you’re 3-1 down? Please. OK, Berbatov missed two sitters against City at Wembley, but Scholes got sent off. Berbatov wasn’t even on the bench while Scholes got ten minutes at the end. The Bulgarian could at least have held the ball up, given his midfield a breather. He couldn’t have been worse than the Mexican, who kept running offside.

The contrast in styles should not have been so extreme. The Barcelona players often gave the ball back to the man who had just passed it to them, while United never did that.

Every United pass tried to make something happen, and that was  just stupid. That made Barcelona look as if they had 13 players, while United seemed to have nine.

In the end, football is about numbers, about strategies that can give you two against one, three against two, four against three.

Barcelona’s collective artistry and intelligence is such that whenever you attack with two, they defend with three. But when they attack, they often get space, or get one against one. They can do this because they have so much skill, desire and belief. Keep-ball is a way of life : possession, plus support, then look for a killer pass or shot. Theirs is a busy, impatient keep-ball rhythm that controls a game, slowing it down to speed it up a moment later, making passes of two yards and even two feet, while maintaining an almost constant goal-threat.

Barcelona made 772 passes against 419 and their most frequent passing combination was Messi to Xavi (31), while United’s was Ferdinand to Van der Sar (10).

Barca had 22 shots against 4 by United Those stats  say it all, really !

Saturday saw Xavi at his most Napoleonic, the commander of Wembley, conducting the Catalan Orchestra and Chorus.Later on Saturday night, when I was half-watching the ITV highlights with the sound off, Barcelona reminded me of a jazz orchestra. A versatile rhythm section, a wonderful ensemble with soloists standing up one by one.

Seeing those two-touch magicians making Man United look pedestrian, making Giggs and Valencia look like journeymen, I imagined Pep Guardiola as a Catalan bandleader playing a grand piano in the technical area during every home game. I once saw Duke Ellington , a suave ambassador who smiled and bowed at the end of the show and said, “Remember, wherever you go in the world, you’ll never find anyone who loves you half as madly as we do.”

That’s what 41-year old Pep should do next season. Play the piano and tell the crowds that he loves them madly. In three seasons as a manager, he’s done everything else. Three La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, many other trophies.

As Ferran Soriano pointed out on Sky Sports News before the game, “This team is the product of 20 years work.”

Soriano is the former Barcelona director I met at Birkbeck College when he gave a PowerPoint seminar on how the biggest European clubs earn their revenue.

At 5pm I had a bet on both teams to score. At 7pm, after the line-ups were announced, I was looking for a second bet. I couldn’t find one I liked, so I did the same bet again and when Rooney equalised in 34, I said, “Thanks, Wayne.”

Looking back, the only mystery of the 2011 Champions League Final will be : How on earth was it 1-1 at half-time?

Sir Alex needs Ashley Young to replace Giggs, Modric to replace Scholes, plus a fiery, big Sandro-type to replace Carrick.

 

2015  

Luis Enrique’s Barcelona add momentum to automatic in Berlin

 

Juventus 1 Barcelona 3

Rakitic 4 Morata 55 Suarez 68 Neymar 90 +7

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This fantastic final in Berlin was a fierce contest that eventually provided four fine goals in open play.

No penalties, no free-kick, not even a big header from a corner.

Barcelona scored an early goal and dominated, as I hoped they would. But they couldn’t kill off Juventus, who battled with magnificent tactical know-how and determination and scored a superb equaliser.

There was an abundance of dramatic moments but it was really the goals that gave us the Wow! moments that we will remember.

Definitely a classic Champions League Final.

Juventus started in high gear and pressed forward fiercely for three minutes, forcing errors.But then Barcelona scored with their first attack in the fourth minute.Gaining composed possession at last, Barcelona moved from left to right and then back to the right, from where Messi hit a big crossfield into the run of left back Jordi Alba, whose lay-off went square into Iniesta’s run, and then a sublime four-yard pass into space set up Rakitic for his left foot shot past Buffon.

WHAT A GOAL! Fabulous football, as good as it gets.

Most of Iniesta’s best passes are scalpel strokes. The sign on his door should say Dr Andres Iniesta : Surgical Assists.

There was a lot of automatic in that goal, and a lot of Guardiola too. That early hammer blow might have finished lesser opponents but Juventus showed the mettle of champions.

Just when I was thinking, “How is it only 1-0?” Morata fired a left-foot shot just wide and Marchisio’s rocket fizzed over the crossbar, Rakitic covered at right back after Dani Alves went AWOL, and when Pogba was brought down on the edge of the box there was no free-kick. Suarez poked a shot a foot wide of the post, then, a minute later, forced Buffon to save again. When Pogba scythed Messi down he was booked. And keeper ter Stegen slapped down a Marchisio shot that flew straight at him.

But an exciting first half ended with the score still 1-0 to Barcelona.

At half-time the family came back from Vijay’s restaurant and Caroline, home for one night only, said, “Have we got a feast for you! The owner of the restaurant said you’re a lucky man to get to watch the football and eat curry.”

Barcelona cranked up the tempo right from the kick-off, and when Barcelona broke away after a Juventus corner they had five against three but Buffon was able to stop Suarez’s shot at the expense of a corner.

Overall it, seemed as if Suarez and Neymar were having a very frustrating night, mainly because the defending by Juventus was so tenacious and professional. Then as Juventus pressed a Dani Alves throw deep in the Barcelona half, the frustrated right back, with no options, lashed the ball diagonally across the pitch towards Neymar but Lichtsteiner won it and passed forward to Marchisio, whose cutely inventive backheel found Lichtsteiner’s overlap.

When his cutback rolled behind Tevez, the little man spun away from Pique and fired a shot that ter Stegen couldn’t hold and Morata tapped in from six yards.

So, after 55 minutes of this pulsating final, it was 1-1.

The anticipation of Suarez for the game’s third goal was the entirely natural movement of a super-motivated competitor at a crucial moment in this drama.He made a run inside Evra as Messi dribbled across on his left foot, and when the Uruguayan saw his mate about to shoot, Suarez checked behind the shoulder of Evra, his marker, and was waiting, perfectly positioned, when Buffon saved Messi’s fierce low shot, to bang home the half-volley for 2-1.

By moving at exactly the right time Suarez made that goal look very simple.The fact that Barcelona had so many attacks and goal attempts rather obscures the fact that 64 long minutes elapsed between their first goal and their second.

However, and maybe this is the more revealing stat, the score was only level at 1-1 for 13 minutes.

When Barcelona scored early, Juventus kept battling until they equalised. After the Morata goal, Barcelona also fought back immediately with terrific skill, power and momentum.

Injuries and substitutions took the game into five minutes of stoppage time that became seven and the last kick of the match came when the tireless Suarez found Neymar, who rifled a low left-foot shot across Buffon for 3-1.

Juventus, who gave a very good account of themselves, had been beaten by the best team in the world.

The Sky pundits were good on Saturday.

Jamie Carragher admitted that he never thought Suarez would stay and play for Liverpool in the Champions league because he thinks that Suarez’s ability level is winning the Champions League, not just playing in the competition. Exactly!

On Suarez, Jamie Redknapp said, “He wants to stretch the play- that’s what he gives them. He doesn’t want the ball to feet.”

Graeme Souness added, “He also pins centrehalves. He’ll also back into centrehalves, he’s strong enough and brave enough to do that. Previous Barcelona teams had nobody running in behind without the ball. They’ve now got that with Rakitic and him – and it’s made them a very different proposition.”

Three clubs have now won five European Cups: Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. AC Milan have seven, Real Madrid ten.

So Barcelona’s next target is to retain the Champions League. That has never been done. This is the first time that two teams from the same league have won it consecutively.

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Juventus: Buffon, Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Barzagli, Evra, Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, Vidal, Tevez, Morata.

Subs: Storari, Ogbonna, Coman, Llorente, Padoin, Sturaro, Pereyra.

Barcelona: ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suarez Neymar.

Subs: Bravo, Xavi, Pedro, Rafinha, Bartra, Adriano, Mathieu.

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)

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