Barcelona lifts European crown from Manchester United

12:19, 28 May 2009
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Barcelona beats Manchester United 2-0 in Champions League final

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, AP reported.

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 yards. 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 5-foot-7, was wide open when he scored on a header from about 6 yards 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.

In Rome, Barcelona supporters splashed, fully clothed, in the Trevi Fountain. Before the match, a Manchester United fan was hospitalized after sustaining a stab wound and 15 people, including United and Barcelona fans, were arrested in separate incidents.

"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. "The game was between Manchester and Barcelona. It wasn`t a duel between anyone in particular."

Ronaldo said he didn`t know whether he would remain with Manchester United, where he has three seasons left on his contract. Real Madrid is thought to be interested in landing the 24-year-old.

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 ball boy 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."

United defender Rio Ferdinand, and Henry and Iniesta all started after overcoming injuries.

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.

Trying to beef up the attack, Ferguson brought on Carlos Tevez for midfielder Anderson at the start of the second half, then added Dimitar Berbatov for Park in the 66th. Ferguson`s final move was to insert Paul Scholes for Ryan Giggs in the 75th.

"Barcelona controlled the game and deserved to win," Ronaldo said. "I`m sure I`m going to play more finals."

AP via USA Today

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