WEMBLEY, England (AP)—Barcelona and Lionel Messi put their places among football’s all-time greats beyond all doubt Saturday as the Argentina striker scored one goal and created another in a 3-1 Champions League final win over Manchester United.
Barcelona dominated possession with trademark one-touch passing but, with Wayne Rooney having equalized Pedro Rodriguez’s first-half opener, could not force the crucial breakthrough until the Argentina striker conjured a 54th-minute solo strike from the edge of the area.
There seemed to be no space as Messi was tracked across the 18-meter (yard) line by fullback Patrice Evra, but the two-time world player of the year spotted a gap between the central defenders and hit a shot down the middle, beating goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar for pace.
Messi followed his 53rd goal of a remarkable season with a feint and run that eventually led to David Villa receiving possession on the edge of the area, from where the Spain striker curled a shot into the top corner.
“They do mesmerize you with their passing and we never really did control Messi,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. “But many people have said that.”
“In my time as manager, it’s the best team I’ve faced.”
A third Champions League title in six seasons and fourth overall means that only Liverpool, AC Milan and fierce rival Real Madrid have won more European Cups than Barcelona’s four.
No team has dominated Europe so comprehensively since Madrid’s three titles in five seasons from 1998-2002, and even that spell was punctuated by barren seasons.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has now won 10 titles—including two European Cups—in three years.
With Pedro scoring Barcelona’s opening goal midway through the first half from an imaginative through ball from stand-in captain Xavi Hernandez, the win was as comprehensive as its 2-0 victory over United in the final two years ago.
The performance was so comfortable that Guardiola was able to bring on regular captain Carles Puyol for the last few moments, giving the injury-hit defender the chance to play a part in a memorable triumph.
But in a gesture symbolizing Barcelona’s team ethic, Puyol handed the armband over to Eric Abidal—whose place in the team had been in doubt after he had surgery this season to remove a liver tumor—and the France defender lifted the famous trophy.
United improved upon its 2009 final performance in Rome and did equalize in the 34th through Wayne Rooney, but could do little to disrupt Europe’s dominant footballing force.
Commentators had said before the game that Barcelona, which had already won a third straight Spanish league title, would be ranked among football’s truly great sides with victory over United.
Now, only Liverpool, AC Milan and Barcelona’s fierce rival Real Madrid have won more European Cups than the Catalan club’s four.
After a shaky opening, Barcelona simply outclassed the English champions.
Xavi orchestrated play from in front of Sergio Busquets, while Andres Iniesta and Messi tormented United with the pinpoint accuracy of their passing.
For half an hour, the match followed the same pattern as the 2009 final. United unsettled Barcelona with constant pressure on the man in possession and dominated the first 10 minutes before the Spanish league champions burst into life.
Barcelona’s short-passing game pushed the United players deep into their own half and kept them there, with Xavi, Villa, Iniesta and Messi finding space where none seemed to exist.
But Barcelona had to wait 17 minutes longer for its opening goal than it did in 2009. Xavi created the chance as he drew four opponents to him by dribbling to the edge of the area.
The midfielder laid a diagonal pass through that crowd of players into the path of Pedro, who arrived down the right channel to hit a firm shot past Van der Sar at his near post.
United responded in the only way it seemed able, returning to the pressing game that served it well in the opening stages. It yielded a goal within seven minutes as, from its own throw, Barcelona gave away possession on the right touchline—sparking a five-player move as skillful as any in the match.
Rio Ferdinand, Fabio da Silva and Michael Carrick were all involved before Rooney carried the ball to the edge of the area and, slipping it to Ryan Giggs with the outside of his right boot, continued his run.
The veteran Giggs controlled with one touch and knocked it back to with his second, giving Rooney the