|1||Van der Sar|
The Reds could hardly have prepared better, and even dominated the game's early stages, but at Wembley on Saturday night Barcelona proved why so many regard them as the best footballing team on the planet. They're certainly champions of Europe. That much is certain now. Not even Wayne Rooney's first-half equaliser, after Pedro had put the Spanish side ahead, blunted their relentless passing game for long.
There can be no shame in defeat. Not to this Barcelona side, a group of players that will surely go down as one of the most talented sides ever assembled. This is a team that boasts, arguably, three of the best five players in the world, a side that battered Real Madrid 5-0 earlier this season in a performance that prompted Rooney to stand and applaud in his own living room.
Perhaps in years to come Rooney will admire Barcelona's performance in this match, too. At Wembley on Saturday there was only disappointment, though, punctuated briefly when he curled home from 15 yards to ignite hope. After that, Rooney, like most of his team-mates, struggled to make an impact.
Just as in Rome two years ago, the Reds started brightly and spent the majority of the opening 10 minutes in the Barcelona half. United's midfield made early challenges and pressed high up the pitch, with Ji-sung Park and Michael Carrick proving particularly effective at disrupting the Catalans' rhythm.
Barcelona almost appeared shell-shocked. The Spanish champions were uncharacteristically wasteful in possession – even Lionel Messi – and nervy at the back. It wasn't until the 16th minute, when Pedro ghosted in front of Rio