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Monday, May 30, 2011

Sublime Barca wins Champions League

AP

WEMBLEY, England — Barcelona and Lionel Messi put their places among soccer's all-time greats beyond all doubt Saturday as the Argentina striker scored one goal and created another in a mesmerizing 3-1 Champions League final win over Manchester United.

News photo
On top of the world: Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates his goal against Manchester United during the Champions League final on Saturday at Wembley. Barcelona won 3-1. AP

Barcelona justified its status as overwhelming favorite by dominating possession with trademark one-touch passing. But with Wayne Rooney having equalized Pedro Rodriguez's first-half opener, the Spanish champions could not force the crucial breakthrough until the Argentina striker conjured a 54th-minute solo strike from the edge of the area.

There seemed to be no space as Messi was tracked by fullback Patrice Evra, but the two-time world player of the year spotted a gap between the central defenders and hit a shot down the middle, beating goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar for pace.

Man-of-the-match Messi followed his 53rd goal of a remarkable season with a feint and run that eventually led to David Villa receiving possession on the edge of the area, from where the Spain striker curled a shot into the top corner.

A third Champions League title in six seasons and fourth overall means that only Liverpool, AC Milan and Real Madrid have won more European Cups than Barcelona's four.

"I feel privileged," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "You always want to win, but the way we have won is what I am most proud of. This is the way we want to play football.

"Lionel is the best player I have seen and probably the best I will ever see."

Messi was typically taciturn in his celebration.

"I'm very happy about the match," Messi said. "We were the better team. We deserved to win."

No team has dominated Europe so comprehensively since Madrid's three titles in five seasons from 1998-2002, and even that spell was punctuated by barren seasons.

Guardiola has now won 10 titles — including two European Cups — in his three years in charge of the club he served as a player for 17 years. Alex Ferguson, the most decorated manager in English soccer history, has needed 25 years with United to win the same number of Champions League titles.

"They do mesmerize you with their passing and we never really did control Messi," Ferguson said. "But many people have said that.

"In my time as manager, it's the best team I've faced."

With Pedro scoring Barcelona's opening goal midway through the first half from an imaginative through ball from stand-in captain Xavi Hernandez, the win was as comprehensive as its 2-0 victory over United in the 2009 final in Rome.

"When Rome finished, I thought we had played a good game, but when I looked at it again I wasn't that impressed," Guardiola said. "But it has served its purpose.

"I think we played much better than the game two years ago."

United improved upon its 2009 final performance in Rome and did equalize in the 34th through Rooney, but could do little to disrupt Europe's dominant soccer force.

Xavi orchestrated play from in front of Sergio Busquets, while Andres Iniesta and Messi tormented United with the pinpoint accuracy of their passing.



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