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Friday, May 29, 2009

Barca reigns over Europe

ROME (AP) Barcelona gave an emphatic answer to who is the best soccer team in Europe, dispatching Manchester United with a dazzling and dominating display to win the Champions League title for the second time in four seasons.

News photo
Well timed: Barcelona's Lionel Messi scores on a header past Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar during the Champions League final in Rome on Wednesday night. AP PHOTO

Samuel Eto'o scored 10 minutes in and Lionel Messi connected in the 70th, leading the Spanish champions to a one-sided 2-0 victory Wednesday night that prevented the English power from becoming the first team in 19 years to win consecutive European titles.

"This is the most important victory of my life," Messi said. "When the second goal came, that calmed us down a lot."

Eto'o took a pass from Andres Iniesta, cut around defender Nemanja Vidic and beat Edwin van der Sar from 8 meters. The goalkeeper got a touch on the right-footed shot but couldn't keep it from going in at the near post.

"The victory is much more important than the goal," said Eto'o, a three-time African player of the year from Cameroon.

Messi, a 21-year-old star of Argentina's national team, easily won the glamour duel with reigning FIFA player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi, who is 170 cm, was wide open when he scored on a header from about 6 meters off a cross from Xavi Hernandez, who had hit a post with a free kick 17 minutes earlier. It was Messi's tournament-high ninth goal and his first in 11 games against English opponents.

Messi set off colorful celebrations at one end of Stadio Olimpico, filled with 62,467 fans, and left English supporters in silence as Manchester United's European unbeaten streak ended at 25 games.

"Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, absolutely," Barca coach Pep Guardiola said of the Argentine, who scored 38 of Barcelona's 153 goals this season. "I think right now he is adding his name to the Golden Ball."

Ronaldo had United's only two on-target shots and six overall. Wayne Rooney managed just one shot.

"This is one of the biggest disappointments of my career," Ronaldo said.

Manchester United, which won its third straight Premier League title and added the English League Cup and Club World Cup, was trying to become the first team to win consecutive European crowns since AC Milan in 1989-90. The Red Devils also won the tournament in 1968 and 1999.

In its first season under Guardiola, a former Barcelona star who began as a ballboy at Camp Nou, the Catalan power won Europe's top club competition for the third time following victories in 1992 and 2006.

"When I won as a player I was young and it was magnificent," said Girardiola, who played for Barcelona's 1992 team. "But now winning the treble at the first attempt is marvelous."

Barcelona also swept Spain's La Liga and Copa del Rey. After the victory, fans in the Spanish city honked horns and set off flares.

"I've been waiting for so long to get this title," said Barcelona forward Thierry Henry, who played for the Arsenal team that lost to Barcelona in the 2006 final. "The last five minutes were the longest of my life."

United manager Alex Ferguson was trying to match the record of Liverpool's Bob Paisley, who coached three teams to European titles.

"We started the game brightly. We were confident and we could have been in front," Ferguson said. "They were two shoddy goals. We didn't play as well as we can, but they are a good team."

South Korean winger Park Ji Sung became the first Asian to appear in a Champions League final and almost scored in the opening minute, but his shot was deflected wide after Ronaldo's free kick was blocked by goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

In Barcelona, Spain, 85 police officers were hurt out of 153 overall injuries and 134 people were arrested during celebrations of Barcelona's victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final, police say.

Arrests were made mainly for public disorder, vandalism and disobeying police orders in Barcelona, while 15 other people were apprehended in the Catalan towns of Lleida, Tarragona, Girona, Granollers and Igualada.

Trouble had also flared at previous celebrations in Barcelona earlier this month after the team won the Copa del Rey and then the Spanish league title.

An estimated 100,000 jubilant supporters gathered at the Canaletes fountain on Las Ramblas, the traditional site for celebrating the club's wins, soon after the team won in Rome on Wednesday.

Some lit flares and set off fireworks to toast a victory that meant Barcelona had become the first Spanish team to win the treble of Europe's top club competition together with the domestic league and cup in a single season.

Only four European teams have previously achieved the feat — United, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Celtic.

On Thursday, Spain's press hailed Barcelona and the 38-year-old Guardiola for the greatest season in the club's history.

Guardiola, the sixth man to have won the European Cup as both player and coach, received lavish praise.

"No coach in the world has achieved what Pep has in his first season. How do we thank Pep for changing the dynamics of the dressing room and producing the best soccer ever seen?" asked Barcelona-based daily Sport.

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