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Barcelona are true champions

Do believe the hype. Barcelona did not merely justify their pre-match billing but set a standard that should see them rated by the history books as one of the truly great sides of European football.

Anyone not ready to sing the praises of Pep Guardiola's side must have been wearing Real Madrid white for even the Manchester United faithful who had descended on Rome in such numbers had to applaud the sheer quality of Barca's play.

There had been some prevailing wisdom before kick-off that Barcelona's makeshift defence would be found wanting yet after a nervous opening few minutes Gerard Pique and Yaya Toure were barely flustered by United's much-vaunted attack.

Those early exchanges inside Rome's Olympic Stadium proved deceptive - early it on had appeared that the individual contest between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to seize the world player of the year crown was heading once more toward the Portuguese star's already-overloaded trophy cabinet.

Ronaldo, who had so devastated Arsenal from the centre-forward spot in the semi-final, looked set up for a repeat performance as Barcelona's defenders made the mistake of standing off him.

Five efforts at the Barcelona goal in the first eight minutes - most of them by Ronaldo - made it appear that this game was as good as over.

Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but not in this case.

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One attack by Barcelona, their first, led to a goal for Samuel Eto'o and from then on the Catalans were able to develop their game to such an extent that they stifled United and were able to thrillingly demonstrate their famed passing game.

Messi emerged from 10 minutes of relative anonymity to torment the United defenders with his ball-tied-to-boot dribbling.

But it was not Messi but Xavi and Andres Iniesta who made the difference, the creative core of the Spanish national side proving again why they are the best midfield partnership in the world.

It was Iniesta's run and astute pass that created Eto'o's goal though the Cameroon striker still had plenty to do, cutting inside Nemanja Vidic and toe-poking the ball inside the near-post as Michael Carrick slid in.

United's almost-arrogant control of the match slowly but surely evaporated, eventually to disappear altogether.

Ferguson's tactical response was obvious but not altogether successful as Carlos Tevez came on for Anderson at the break. The Argentinian, perhaps only in response to Barcelona's domination of possession, spent too much time in his own half - indeed it was his foul on the marvellous Iniesta on the edge of the United box that led to Xavi striking the post with a terrific bending free-kick.

Ferguson's second move, also predictable, saw Dimitar Berbatov replace Park Ji-Sung, but it merely heralded Barcelona finally pressing home their advantage.

Xavi's cross was mouthwatering, and Messi's header back across and over Edwin van der Sar was straightforward - though the absence of a challenge from either Vidic or Rio Ferdinand was mystifying - to lead to a richly-deserved goal to reward one of the great European final individual performances.


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