In the end, Barcelona’s slick passing style was way too much for Manchester United to handle. If you only watched the first five minutes of this game, you would have put all your money on Manchester United to crush Barcelona. But by the end of the game it was the other way around, with Barcelona’s fans shouting “OLE!” every time they completed yet another pass in and around the Manchester United defense.
In the opening minutes Manchester dominated play, by creating an onslaught on the Barcelona goal. Cristiano Ronaldo and Ji-Sung Park both came close to scoring for Manchester early on. But the game was turned on its head when Barcelona scored against the run of play in the tenth minute. Andres Iniesta ran through the midfield with the ball before slipping a neat pass through to Samuel Eto inside Manchester United’s box. Eto then cut past Nemanja Vidic before stabbing the ball past Edwin van der Sar at the near post. After the goal, Barcelona seized the momentum, and began to boss the game by maintaining possession of the ball. Andres Iniesta and Xavi began to look particularly dominant in midfield. In my preview of the game, I mentioned that if these two players could keep possession of the ball for Barcelona, my guess was that their team would carry the day. By halftime it looked like my hunch was right, but I wasn’t sure what Sir Alex Ferguson might pull out his bag of tricks at half time. He brought on Carlos Tevez in place of Andersen, and for a few minutes, the choice looked to be effective with Tevez lunging at defenders and breaking up Barcelona's play out of the back. I expected more of a full-blooded response from United as a whole though, but truth be told, it turned out to be more of the same in the second half. Xavi, and Iniesta continued to dominate possession in midfield, while Barcelona’s makeshift backline of Puyol, Pique, Toure, and Sylvinho somehow began to look like the world’s best defense. Things went from bad to worse for United in the 70th minute, when Xavi sent a beautiful spinning ball across the face of the United goal to pick out Messi, who leapt and lofted a headed goal into the corner past van der Sar.
Save for a few moments of counter attack excitement from United, the remainder of the match was spurred on by Barcelona’s neat distribution. It seemed like United had no answer for Barcelona’s swift and subtle passes, and Ronaldo in particular looked frustrated. He earned himself a yellow card for shoving Puyol late in the game, but was fortunate not to be booked earlier for a few rash challenges. With the stakes high in this game, it now looks exceedingly likely that the votes for World Player of the Year will probably go to Messi, rather than Ronaldo. Messi was not only was the top scorer in the Champions league, but also managed to score in the final, with Ronaldo silenced. Messi and his Barcelona teammates found a way to break down the Red Devils, and were justified in their celebrations as European Club Champions. After witnessing the Champions League Final, if Lionel Messi gets the plaudits this year for European and World Player of the Year, the awards he receives will be equally justified.