UEFA Champions League Final full of surprises
One of the biggest games in soccer this year played out just as Barcelona fans expected it would. The UEFA Champions League Final displayed two extraordinary talents in the game of futbol. Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi both scored important goals for their respective teams. Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma scored the games first goal for Barcelona in the 27th minute. Midfielder Xavi snuck behind midfielder Michael Carrick and slid his past behind defender and captain Nemanja Vidic. Pedro received the past and slid the ball into the back right corner of the goal. Rooney’s scored the equalizer in the 34th, dribbling up field, laying the ball off to midfielder Ryan Giggs who slid the ball back to the cutting Rooney just inside the 18-yard box. Rooney curves the ball into the left corner past the diving Barcelona goal keeper Victor Valdes. Messi answered in the 54th with what would end up being the game winning goal. Messi used his speed and quick footwork to dribble the ball through the midfield and took a shot from 20 yards away that curled in past Manchester United goal keeper Edwin van der Sar. The final nail in the coffin came from Barcelona forward David Villa in the 70th. Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets alludes defenders inside the 18-yard box and passes the ball to Villa just outside the box who curls the ball into the upper right corner. Barcelona defeated Manchester United for the second time in three years in the UEFA Champions League Final 3-1.
As a Barcelona fan, the turnout of the game was not a shock. Rooney and Messi both stepped into the spotlight, which was also not a shock to fans. What was a surprise (a great one for Barcelona fans, including myself) was Pedro’s goal and David Villa’s goal in the 69th minute to seal the game. No one is doubting the talent of Pedro and Villa, but no one expected them to be heroes. Although, Villa scored 18 goals this season, he has struggled a little since joining Barcelona. Villa was a prolific goal scorer at Valencia and a dominant force for the Spanish National team in the 2010 World Cup. Villa scored 25 goals in 2005 for Valencia, 16 goals in 2006, 18 goals in 2007, 28 goals in 2008, and 21 in 2009. But Villa has been quieter since joining Barcelona in 2010. Part of this has come from sharing the front line with a star like Messi. During the UEFA Champions League Final, Villa looked back to his old form and finished the game with a beautiful goal in the upper right corner.
Barcelona head coach Pep Guardiola made another surprising move this game by placing Gerard Pique, Eric Abidal, Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano together on the back line to defend. The four had never played defense together and it clearly showed in the opening minutes of the game. Miscommunication, scrambling and lack of defensive coverage almost caused some unlucky chances, but the defense quickly recovered after Rooney’s goal and did not let any other clean shots come through. Not to take any credit away from Manchester United’s early suffocating defense, which clearly put Barcelona out of their element. Barcelona plays with quick, precise, one-touch passing that did not find its groove until late in the game. Give credit to Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung who covered the whole field and made numerous great tackles. ManU’s defense was definitely another surprise to the Barcelona offense. Granted Barcelona managed to keep position 68 percent of the time, though it did not appear that way to a spectator. Barcelona frequently lost possession and made several bad passes in the beginning of the first half. Eventually Barcelona’s defense picked up. Manchester United only attempted four shots, one of them on target. Manchester United did not win any corner kicks (Barcelona had 6), and other than ManU’s only goal, Barcelona’s goal keeper, Valdes, was uncontested.
The final surprise came from the refereeing. Hungarian official Viktor Kassai was appointed to the head officiating position for the big match at Wembley. Kassai refrained from blowing his whistle at every little flop letting the game gain momentum and pace that was uninterrupted for the most part. There were only four yellow cards pulled, a small amount for such an important game; only three of the cards were for actual fouls. Tensions remained low and spats were few and far between. After the disappointing refereeing of the World Cup finals in 2010, Kassai’s refereeing performanace at the UEFA Champions League Finals seemed a promising change in how important games could be less affected by the calls made my refs.
The UEFA Champions League Final was an exciting spectacle that had everything the fans were hoping for. But the surprise coaching moves, surprising stars that emerged, and the great hands-off refereeing stepped into the spotlight and added to the excitement of the UEFA Champions League Final.