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Will Manchester United-Barcelona “Dream Final” Live Up to the Hype?

May 27, 2009 11:53 AM
by Denis Cummings
Neutral fans are counting on the Champions League final between English champions Manchester United and Spanish champions Barcelona to be a classic.

Manchester United, Barcelona Prepare for Champions League Final

Manchester United, champions of England’s Barclays Premier League, will be looking to become the first team since Milan in 1990 to repeat as European Cup champions when they face Spanish champions Barcelona today in the UEFA Champions League final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

The match-up of two talented attack-minded teams is widely regarded as the dream final for neutral fans. “It is the world’s best team of last year—winners of the European Cup, the World Club Cup and the Premier League—against the side that many consider the world’s best this year. … If the European Cup final is supposed to be between Europe’s best two clubs, this is the right pairing,” writes Sid Lowe of The Guardian.

Though many so-called dream match-ups have failed to live up to the hype, Kevin Fylan of Reuters believes that it is unlikely the two high-flying teams will succumb to the pressure of the final.

“A football match can be ruined by almost anything but the surest route to a damp squib is fear of failure,” he writes. “Neither side on Wednesday has any need to fear the consequences of a defeat.”
Whether the match will be played in the free-flowing, attack-minded style that many hope for will likely be decided by Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, says Reuters. Last year, when the two clubs met in the two-legged Champions League semifinal, United’s stifling defense shut down the Barcelona attack en route to a 1-0 aggregate victory.

United may employ the same tactics that were so successful last year, but Ferguson indicated last week that he is looking for a more spectator-friendly final: “Football always needs a boost,” he said, according to The Independent. “When we get a game of football that gives the real story of football, then we are all lifted by it. Manchester United and Barcelona can do that in this final.”

Background: Road to the final

Barcelona has won the La Liga title and the Copa del Rey tournament this year, giving them a sweep of Spanish domestic competitions. They now have a chance to win their first “treble”—a sweep of the league, domestic cup and European cup championships—with a victory over United.

In the Champions League, Barcelona looked a cut above the competition with 6-3 and 5-1 aggregate victories over Olympic Lyonnais and Bayern Munich, respectively, recounts In the semifinal, however, they looked like they were going to crash out after being held goalless for 180 minutes by Chelsea.

But in the dying minutes of the controversial second leg, Andres Iniesta scored a stunning goal—on Barcelona’s first shot of the match—to tie the game 1-1 and send Barca to the final on the away goals tiebreaker.

Manchester United won the Premier League for a third straight year and won the Carling Cup in March, but their dreams of an unprecedented “quadruple” were dashed with a shootout loss to Everton in the FA Cup semifinal. They also won the FIFA World Club Cup in the fall, a feat marked by a patch on the center of their shirts.

The Independent looks at the road to the final for Manchester United, who nearly stumbled in the quarterfinal against underdog Porto. In the semifinal, United looked dominant against fellow English side Arsenal, winning 4-1 on aggregate.

Key Players: Messi and Ronaldo

Wednesday’s game features players whom many believe to be the two best in the world: Manchester United’s 24-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, last year’s Ballon d'Or winner for top player in Europe, and Barca’s Lionel Messi, the 21-year-old Argentinean who has drawn many comparisons to Argentinean great Diego Maradona.

“This can be the match that decides the Ballon d’Or 2009,” said England manager Fabio Capello to The Times of London. “Messi’s form has been explosive over three quarters of the season, when he has undoubtedly been the best player in the world. But in the last three months Ronaldo has become Ronaldo again, and he is now perhaps fitter than

Historical Context: Manchester United and Barcelona in the final

Manchester United and Barcelona have combined to play in eight European Cup finals, recounts ESPN, though this is the first year they will play each other. United has won three times in three tries: 1968, 1999 and last year in a penalty shoot-out against Chelsea. Barca won in 1992 and 2006, but lost three times, including a famous 4-0 loss to Milan in 1994.

Reference: UEFA Champions League


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