Barcelona plays to the script

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Champions League final

It was the 55th minute of the match. Juventus had drawn level early in the second half and the goal had suddenly changed the tempo. The black and white supporters were lifting the noise level at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium as Juventus strung together a few more passes, trying to put some pressure on Barca inside their half.

Neymar was invisible, Messi looked a bit tired and suddenly the Barca midfield was completely focusesd on supporting the defence as Pirlo was weaving a little magic with his special passing. But then, out of nowhere, like always, Messi got the ball and started running into acres of empty space which he seemingly seem to creare.

In a classic counter-attack with half of Juventus still back-pedalling furiously, Messi cut into the box and let loose a thunderous shot which the great Buffon could only push away meekly. Right into the path of Suarez, who was motoring in ahead of Evra from the right and made no mistake slotting it home for a decisive 2-1 lead.

As the ball smashed into the net, Suarez jumped over the ad boards, sprinted across the large Barca motif behind the goal and kissed his fingers in front of his delirious fans. He then turned around and pointed to Messi as his fellow Barca players started to rush in for congratulations. Resurrection was finally achieved and Barca had both hands firmly on the UCL trophy. Suarez, whose campaign for Barca started in disgrace last year with match bans for biting Chiellini in the World Cup, had finally come home a hero!

Barcelona dominate: same old story

The match itself had few such defining moments, however. Juventus started with the defensive mindset which everyone expected. What no one ancipated was the mysterious way they left Rakitic completely unmarked in the box for the first goal.

Nine out of ten Barca players were involved in the move but it was the genius of Iniesta which made all the difference. A simple significant pause and the maestro laid it perfectly for Rakitic in the middle of the box to turn it in and put Barca into an early lead (1-0). The game was barely three and a half minutes old and Juventus were suffering aleady.

The central defenders were getting stretched, the wing play was non-existent, and the midfield trio of Marchisio, Pogba and Vidal were too busy supporting the defence as Barca played fast and hard football. Evra and Lichtsteiner were not getting the supply line organised, and there were a lot of shaky, nervous moves among the back four which did not bode well for the Old Lady from Turin.

However, barring a few trademark passing drills which Messi, Suarez and Neymar seemed to accomplish with world class nonchalance, Barca were not creating too many chances. Buffon did save a certain second goal when he palmed over a Suarez shot, but these were quite few and far between. The possession and passing was dominated by Barca and there were no signs from Juve at this point indicating they had the wherewithal to mount a fightback.

A comeback of sorts

But, as in the semifinal, with a goal down, Allegri’s boys never gave up. And Alvaro Morata, who never seems to stop scoring against Spanish teams, did the job once again in the 55th minute after Tevez’s snap turn and shot could only see Ter Stegen parry it straight in the path of Morata (1-1).

Still, it was always quite clear which team was firmly in the saddle. Juventus certainly perked up after their goal and Pogba and Pirlo tried to stitch together some moves, but the second Barca goal looked inevitable.

Neymar, surprisingly, had a poor second half – by his standards – though he had a goal disallowed. But he once again put the finishing touches by scoring the third goal deep inside injury time when Juve had pushed their entire team up, hoping against hope for a second equaliser.

Resistance, but how long?

On this night Barca ran out a deserved and clear winner. As they picked up the elusive treble for the second time (no team has done it till date), Messi’s Barcelona are now clearly a cut above the rest of Europe. No Spanish team has dominated Europe like this in a long time, as Barca now have four European Cups in the past 10 years. There is a clear difference in quality that Messi brings to the game – and he’s still just only 27! Next year all the teams will have to work out really hard how they can create chinks in the armour of this win machine.

The match was also special as Europe’s football world bid a special goodbye to two legends – Xavi, who hoisted the trophy with his team for the last time, and Pirlo, whose teary eyes dominated TV screens as the after party started in full swing in Berlin.

Victory, as they don’t often say, is indeed bittersweet.

Rathindra Basu lives, breathes, sleeps sports and is forever waiting for the next Indian sporting triumph. Since this usually takes much time and infinite patience he also listens to music, reads voraciously and eats almost anything that moves.

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