Hassan Chamas

What: 2008/09 UEFA Champions League final
Who: FC Barcelona (Spain) v. Manchester United (England)
When: Wednesday, May 27th, 2009, at 20:45 CET
Where: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy

Ten years since the treble

How ironic is it that the last team to record a significant treble, is none other than Barca’s opponents on Wednesday evening, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Back in 1999, little did people know that a group of young, talented, and ambitious players, later to be known to the public as “Fergie’s Fledglings”, would take the remaining year of the millennium by the horns, recording the impressive feat of winning a Premier League title, FA Cup, and Champions League. Now, exactly ten years later, the stage is set for Josep Guardiola to take on SAF’s mantle and guide his Iniestas, Messis and Bojans on the road to becoming 2009’s Gary Neville, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. With the league trophy in the bag, and a third of the job done after winning the Copa del Rey in typical Barcelona-esque fashion against Athletic Bilbao, Guardiola’s second stint at Barca couldn’t have started on a more excellent note.

Two in a row

That’s exactly what Manchester United want to do: Assure their continental success for the second year running. While Red Devils fans will likely be celebrating in euphoria as their team finally reaches Liverpool’s milestone in terms of league titles, the prospect of a repeated double similar to that of last year is the icing on a well-baked cake, after all. Truth be told, Man Utd this year are not as frightening as last year, despite the additional force of Dimitar Berbatov, but then again, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo did score an astonishing 42 goals last year to end up with the prestigious Ballon d’Or accolade. Ronaldo’s vintage displays, week after week, confirm that there is still plenty left in this lad’s repertoire. With his “underachiever” tag now shrugged-off, CR7 comes against the best team in all of Europe. Led by a certain Argentinean rival, now is his chance to show the world that he’s still the best.

Road to Rome

Barcelona: Topped Group C; eliminated Olympique Lyonnais (6-3) in the Round of 16; eliminated Bayern Munich (5-1) in the quarter-final; and eliminated Chelsea (1-1 on away goals) in the semi-final.

Manchester United: Topped Group E; eliminated Internazionale (2-0) in the Round of 16; eliminated FC Porto (3-2) in the quarter-final; and eliminated Arsenal (4-1) in the semi-final.

Players to watch

Barcelona- Lionel Messi: Like it or not, a large portion of this match will evolve around the Messi – Ronaldo joust. The biggest nominee for this year’s golden ball will be up against the winner of last year’s, in an effort to have their picture on the cover of the next football software games. Ever since he broke through to the Barcelona first-team, Messi has been improving to be the best in the world. Now, we can safely assume that he’s the best at what he does. Instrumental in Barcelona’s league season, mercurial whenever possible, rarely beaten, this is the reign of Messi. God help whoever stands in his way.

Manchester United: Cristiano Ronaldo: The cannon-balls that he delivered against boyhood club Sporting Lisbon and Premier League foes Arsenal just show how talented and dangerous this winger can be. He might not be the record-breaking player he was last season, but he’s still a cream of the crop player. Under no circumstances must he be given license to roam and the space to harm.

Key Battles

Cristiano Ronaldo v whoever will be on the left/right: Pep Guardiola will have to nurture the migraine resulting from the suspension of his two full-backs, Eric Abidal, and most importantly, Daniel Alves. This said; he will surely deploy Sylvinho on one side of Barca’s flanks, but the fact of the matter remains that Barcelona will be extremely vulnerable against a Cristiano Ronaldo who just relishes exploiting every conceivable angle. Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo.

Patrice Evra v Lionel Messi: While Evra may well be the best left-back in the world, he undoubtedly comes up against the best player in the world. Evra will start out strong, but against Messi, there is little anybody can do. Winner: Leo Messi.

Wayne Rooney v Carles Puyol: Both players are solid, well built and their duel will be a matter of physique and stamina. Wayne Rooney on his day can be one of the best in the world, while Puyol has undoubtedly been one of the best defenders of the 2008/09 season. A hard choice to make. Winner: Uncertain.

Nemanja Vidic v Samuel Eto’o: There is hardly anyone out there – perhaps even no-one – who can contain the fiery pace of Samuel Eto’o better than Vidic, who really cemented himself this season as a fan-favourite. Under the guidance and in partnership with Rio Ferdinand, the Serb was in line to clinch the PFA Player of the Year award, narrowly losing out to team-mate Ryan Giggs. He managed to tame Zlatan Ibrahimovic when his side met Inter in the Champions League, but against an in-form Eto’o, who is the leading Pichichi in Spain; his task could prove to be one-too-many. Winner: Samuel Eto’o.

Michael Carrick v Xavi Hernandez: Both are midfield maestros, both have an impressive shot, and both have been instrumental for their team this season. But the ruling factor is that Xavi has been in imperious form ever since Euro 2008. Commanding in the centre for both la Furia Roja and Barcelona, the Blaugrana vice-captain has been the best Spanish player this season, and vintage “Xavi” displays against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu recently only confirmed this. Winner: Xavi.

Team Weaknesses

Barcelona: Right/left flank: Dani Alves and Eric Abidal will be greatly missed. The fact that Guardiola doesn’t have any players near their calibre doubles the worries. Man Utd will be wise to invest time on the flanks.

Manchester United: Right-back: Whether Wes Brown or Rafael da Silva fill in at right-back, they will still have a hard time stopping Thierry Henry, who is having a magnificent run lately. Perhaps a more defensive approach would be the clever to do in hope of stopping this rampant Frenchman.

Match Prediction

Messi vs. Ronaldo, Guardiola’s youth against Ferguson’s maturity, the best team in Europe last year against the best team of Europe this year. Call it whatever you want, but the fact of the matter is that there couldn’t be any other conceivable finale to this year’s edition of the Champions League. The English champions bring sound tactical strategy, the soon-to-be Spanish champions sheer raw attacking prowess. Both teams have excellent players in every position, both teams play attractive football, both teams are the envy of all of Europe. A very, very hard prediction to make, but their beyond belief season will be the ticket to Barcelona’s victory. Expect them to come out on top by a one-goal margin.

Manchester Utd 1909 Retro           Brazil 08/09 Training Shirt

Manchester Utd 1909 retro long/sleeve shirt                       Brasil 08/09 training shirt, blue


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