May 29, 2011
Barcelona makes strong case as best team ever
By BRIAN WESTFALL, Sports Network
Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson greeted Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola just after the Champions League final whistle Saturday at Wembley Stadium with a smile on his face, exchanged a few words and patted him on the back.
Then, Ferguson walked away to contemplate another loss in the final to Guardiola's Barcelona, with the consolation that falling to the best team in the world could not be so bad.
The odds were against United lifting a fourth European championship, even with the final being held in London and the squad in good form all season. Ferguson won his record 19th English Premier League title this season.
But Barcelona proved why it is the best club team in Europe - once again - and its latest masterpiece, a 3-1 win over United on Saturday in England, will end the talk of whether it's one of the best club team's ever.
And start a serious conversation about whether Barca is the best club ever.
Obviously, it is virtually impossible to compare teams from different eras and to truly call this Barcelona team the best, ahead of say, the Real Madrid side that won five straight European Cups from 1956-60 or the Ajax or Bayern Munich clubs that captured three consecutive titles in the 1970s, is no easy task.
Saying that Barcelona stands alongside those clubs - and arguably others - as an equal (at the very least) is rather easy now.
Barcelona's class was so evident at Wembley, United rarely touched the ball on its home soil. Guardiola's side had an incredible 70 percent of the possession and, if not for one moment of brilliance from United's Wayne Rooney, this game would have never been in doubt.
Barca settled in after just a few minutes, then toyed with United for the rest of the match. Andres Iniesta and Xavi, two of the three finalists for the FIFA Ballon d'Or as the world's best player, combined to set up Pedro for the first goal for Barcelona in the 27th minute.
After Rooney scored on one of United's rare touches in the 34th minute, Barca turned to Lionel Messi - the other finalist and winner of the Ballon d'Or. The Argentine magician provided the game-winner early in the second half.
Messi drove into the middle of the field and with four United players near him on the edge of the area, left them all and goalie Edwin van der Sar stunned with a brilliant left-footed shot into the right side of the net.
His 12th goal in the Champions League this season - which easily led the event - tied the tournament record and was also his 53rd in all competitions in just 54 matches this season.
He also scored almost two years ago to the day, when Barcelona defeated United 2-0 in the 2009 Champions League final.
David Villa added the third goal later in the second half, sealing a complete and dominating performance for Barca, which basically used the last 20 minutes of the match as a victory lap.
Although the conversation will continue for some time and years from now there will be another team or two enter the talk, for now the world has every reason to focus solely on Barcelona. The club has now won three Champions League titles in the last six years.
It is the type of team that just doesn't come along often, and with Messi just 23 and Carles Puyol, Xavi and Eric Abidal - who made an emotional return from cancer to start the finale - the only regulars over 30, the next few years are promising as well.
Then, possibly, the conversation about the best club ever will start and end with Barcelona.