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Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0 in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday evening to be crowned champions of Europe and complete a never-before accomplished treble in the process.

In Barca coach Josep Guardiola’s debut season in charge of the Catalan giants, the Spanish outfit completed their triply-glorious season in style with a domineering victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, in the process denying The Red Devils the accolade of becoming the first team to defend the Champions League title in its current form.

After a blistering start from United which saw Cristiano Ronaldo twice go close, Samuel Eto’o slammed Barca into the lead with their first chance after ten minutes, and from there Guardiola’s classier team took hold.

Thierry Henry almost doubled the advantage early in the second half but was denied by Edwin van der Sar while Xavi went even closer but was foiled by the right post, as he crashed a free-kick off the woodwork.

The competition’s leading scorer this season – and now the true claimant to the title of world’s best player – Lionel Messi then stepped forward to win the battle of the superstars with Cristiano Ronaldo as he gracefully nodded a Xavi cross home in the 70th minute to finish United off, and secure Barca’s third trophy alongside their league and Copa del Rey triumphs.

Described in its pre-match hype as the ‘dream final’ in pitting Europe’s widely-recognised two finest teams against one another, Barca avenged last season’s semi-final exit at the hands of United and edged Spain in front of England as the leading exponent of European champions with a twelfth title for a team from their top flight. Barca also brought to an end United’s all-time record 25-game unbeaten run in the Champions League.

So much was made of the Messi versus Ronaldo comparison beforehand with debate raging over who the better and more influential player was, not just for their own side but on the world stage. It was the United man who had the first chance to stamp his impression on the game when a free-kick was awarded within his range inside two minutes, Yaya Toure impeding Anderson’s path illegally. The zipping effort from the Portuguese winger bounced right in front of Victor Valdes, forcing the Barca keeper to spill into the path of Park Ji-sung who was thwarted by a last-ditch Gerard Pique block. It was a tenacious start from United and one which continued for only a very short time.

Buoyed by his troublesome set piece, Ronaldo tried an audacious shot from long range that flew past Valdes’ left-hand post, and moments later chested and volleyed marginally wide as Barca failed to get a footing in the game. United had gained the upper hand, but that changed in an instant in the tenth minute.

Iniesta, at times overshadowed by the pomp which surrounds Messi but no less an influence on his side, drove past Michael Carrick and laid on Eto’o. A deft check inside a gingerly and retracting challenge from Nemanja Vidic saw the Cameroonian striker get enough of a sight of goal to poke the ball past Van der Sar at his near post, before Carrick’s desperate lunging challenge caught him.

Having scored from their first attack and visibly lifted by the goal, Barca began to give glimpses of the style they have exuded so much this season as they relaxed on the ball and begun to play. Messi started to enjoy snippets of time on the ball but mis-timed a shot from a corner as the momentum was slowly swinging the Spanish champions’ way.

A stray pass in midfield from Carrick laid bare his shakiness, while Ryan Giggs lifted a free-kick over the bar after Pique body-checked Ronaldo. United had been the domineering power early on, but by this stage they were fast losing the momentum they had built.

Messi fired just over as he drifted in off the right, while at the other end Ronaldo was restricted to a dragged shot wide from 20 yards. Xavi floated a free-kick not far over after Anderson had nudged the instrumental Iniesta in the back as Barca’s chances started to mount.

Both sides continued to pressure one another when chasing possession, and there was a nerviness around, never more apparent than when a headed pass back to Van der Sar saw the Dutchman almost caught out.

Toure, not so comfortable on the back foot but confident carrying the ball forward surged into attack as half time drew near, laying on Carles Puyol on the overlap. The right-back’s cross was cut out by Vidic as Barca built towards a crescendo, and from the resulting corner Pique just missed connecting with Xavi’s delivery.

Messi then very nearly opened United up with a piece of improvised play which saw the Argentine scoop the ball over Vidic’s head to the onrushing Thierry Henry – Rio Ferdinand intervened – and Iniesta tried to repeat the move shortly after, but not before, Van der Sar had spilled a Messi cross towards his near post which he was grateful to see Vidic sweep up.

United needed inspiration, and the replacement of Anderson with Carlos Tevez at the break hinted at a more pressing and attacking method of getting back into the game. Barca continued to ride their wave though and just three minutes into the second half Henry passed up a golden opportunity to double his side’s lead.

Catching United on the counter and John O’Shea out of position the Catalan outfit hit fast, with Henry racing in behind and cutting inside Ferdinand’s sprawling lunge. The Frenchman set himself and tried to side-foot past Van der Sar, but the United keeper spread himself well to deny a second.

The pressure continued to spew forth as Sylvinho whipped in a cross from the left which Van der Sar gathered as Eto’o swept in, and the goalscorer then almost turned provider as he threaded a magnificent ball in for Messi, who just missed connecting on the penalty spot. There was a claim from the playmaker that O’Shea had helped him on his way to the turf, but appeals for a penalty were given the short shrift by Swiss referee Massimo Busacca.

Then, Barca hit the post. In a moment that first hinted at a possible way back into the game for United, Iniesta was brought down on the very edge of the English champions’ penalty area by Tevez. Xavi bent the ball onto the right post, and with United knowing they had been handed a serious reprieve they upped their tempo.

Wayne Rooney posed a question to the Barca defence with a devilish cross that Toure got just enough of a touch on to deny both Ronaldo and Park, and Carrick over-hit  a through ball for Rooney as United desperately sought an opening.

The game was opening up but Barca struck what proved to be the killer blow with 20 minutes remaining when Xavi crafted a beautiful arcing cross to Messi, who headed a perfectly-placed effort back across the face of goal and into the top-right corner for 2-0.

With United’s hopes hanging by a thread they almost pulled one back instantly, but an alert Valdes stood firm to shut out Ronaldo at close range as the ball came to him at the far post. Puyol then headed straight at Van der Sar at the other end as a third went begging.

The Barca captain then found the energy for a late burst into United’s penalty area to gobble up an Iniesta pass, but failed to lift the ball over Van der Sar.

United went down with a fight as Ronaldo glanced wide with his head and late substitute Dimitar Berbatov planted a corner firmly over the bar in the same manner, but there was to be no 1999-style turnaround as Barca were rightfully crowned champions.