The much-anticipated UEFA Champions League final took place yesterday in Rome yesterday in what amounted to a dream match -- Manchester United vs. Barcelona.
Not only did matchup feature the world's two best teams, it also featured the world's two best players -- United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
In order to get the full soccer flavor, I decided watch the game with a little atmosphere. I trekked to Club Garibaldi in Bay View, you can find a handful of true soccer fans soaking in games on weekend morning. It is predominately a Man. U. bar, so there was definitely festive feeling leading up to the game. Both flags were raised and the atmosphere was intense, but it was friendly. It was also standing room only an hour before the match.
As expected, United dominated the first few minutes. At the 8-minute mark, the Red Devils were leading in shots, 5-0, and dominating the pace of play. That all changed in the 10th minute on a Barcelona counter-attack and a Samuel Eto'o short-sided goal that Edwin van der Sar might like to have back.
After that, Barcelona put on a virtual clinic, showing an uncanny ability to make short one-touch passes had United running in circles for the rest of the half. Messi also showed why he is considered one of the best players in the world with his unbelievable ball control.
The halftime stats showed the Barca had 53 percent of the possession, but it didn't seem that way. United rarely got the ball over midfield and there was an APB put of for Wayne Rooney, who only had a few touches at most.
United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson tried to jump-start his team by playing Argentine forward Carlos Teves in the second half along with Bulgarian striker Demitar Berbatov. It didn't matter. Barcelona completely dominated the ball. What was most impressive was how Barcelona trapped turnovers into perfect passes to start a counter-attack. Most teams blast away at the ball and end up turning it back. Barcelona seemed to have it taped to their feet and you could see the United's frustration.
The death bell rang in the 70th minute on a perfect cross from Xavi to a back post run by none other than Messi -- who calmly lobbed a header back over van der Sar and into the back of the net.
From there, United packed it in -- tired of chasing the ball and their tails. United has been by far the world's best team this year, winning the Carling Cup, The FIFA Club World Cup as well as the Premier League Championship, but on this day they were thoroughly outplayed.
A couple of other things stood out. Carles Puyel had no problem keeping up with the speedy Rooney or Ji-Sung Park. In fact, nothing was really heard from either of them -- just a brilliant performance from a cagey veteran. I was also impressed with how hard Ronaldo played, something he is not always known for. He even made a few tackles and managed to stay on his own feet for most of the game.
It was also refreshing to not have a big match decided by the referee. For the most part, Massimo Busacca let the game flow. It was great to see, especially after the near-riot that Chelsea caused following their semifinal loss to Barca.
Lastly, ESPN has to make a push for the EPL contract when it comes up. If we want the game to grow in this country, more games have to be televised. Let's face it, there is nothing going on at 9 on a Saturday morning, anyway. Seeing how the game should be played is amazing and it definitely is contagious.
Here's to the boys down at Club G. for putting up with my stupid questions all year. I'm already looking forward to next season.