BARCELONA confirmed their place in the pantheon of football's greatest sides after outclassing Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley to claim their second Champions League crown in three years.
Goals from Pedro, Lionel Messi and David Villa secured a deserved victory for the Catalan magicians after England international Wayne Rooney had raised United’s hopes with a well-taken first-half equaliser.
The star of an electrifying team performance was Argentinian striker Messi, the 23-year-old maestro whose brilliant effort on 54 minutes saw him equal Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of 12 goals in a single Champions League campaign.
It also took Messi’s tally for the season to an astonishing 56 goals in 62 games for club and country, and propelled Barcelona towards their fourth victory in club football’s most prestigious competition.
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Sir Alex Ferguson’s United had been determined to avoid a repeat of the 2009 final in Rome, where Pep Guardiola’s side had struck early before going on to clinch a 2-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico.
Yet despite a bright opening United were ultimately handed a defeat that was just as emphatic as their loss two years ago, with the Spanish champions revelling in the wide open spaces of Wembley.
United, lining up in an aggressive 4-4-2 formation, had harried Barcelona relentlessly in the early exchanges as they sought to prevent the Catalans from settling into their flowing passing rhythm.
But it was not long before Barcelona found their feet and United were to spend much of the opening half an hour, and the match, firmly on the back foot.
Villa shot wide after being picked out by Messi on the edge of the area and moments later Pedro went close after Xavi and Gerard Pique combined menacingly.
A jinking run by Messi set alarm bells jangling in the Manchester United defence before the striker threaded a lovely pass to Pedro only for United skipper Nemanja Vidic to slide in with an important block.
United had Vidic to thank for another superb piece of defending shortly afterwards, the Serbian judging his tackle brilliantly to deny Messi.
But on 27 minutes, Barcelona’s relentless pressure finally reaped its reward. An exquisite pass from Xavi struck with the outside of the boot picked out Pedro and the winger coolly clipped his shot beyond van der Sar.
At that point Ferguson must have been fearing a repeat Rome.
But crucially, United were able to find an equaliser within seven minutes.
Rooney combined passes with Michael Carrick out wide on the right before racing towards goal. Another one-two with Ryan Giggs, looking perilously close to off-side, and Rooney was in space.
The England international took his time and swept in a curling shot beyond Victor Valdes to round off a wonderful move.
The goal clearly rattled Barcelona, but the Catalans were soon threatening again. Messi went on a surging run and picked out Villa but then just failed to control his team-mate’s return pass and United breathed again.
United started the second half positively but again Barcelona were swiftly on top as the warning lights were flashing again.
A fine save from van der Sar denied Dani Alves after the Brazilian was played in by Andres Iniesta before Vidic headed away Messi’s follow up shot.
But on 54 minutes Barcelona were back in front.
Messi gathered the ball 25 yards out, and with Patrice Evra standing off fatally, the Barca talisman buried a thunderous low shot beyond van der Sar.
With Barcelona firmly on top it was left to Villa to apply the coup de grace on 69 minutes.
Messi embarrassed Nani before racing down the right flank. When Nani then failed to clear again, Messi found Sergio Busquets, who passed for Villa to curl into the top corner.
Player ratings from Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in the Champions League final at Wembley on Saturday.
Victor Valdes, 7 – The Spanish goalkeeper could do nothing about Wayne Rooney’s sublime equaliser and was rarely tested after that.
Dani Alves, 7 – After being pushed back by Park Ji-Sung in the opening minutes, the Brazilian right-back was able to influence play with his forceful runs.
Gerard Pique, 8 – The former Manchester United defender gave an imperious display to blot out Javier Hernandez and kept Rooney at bay.
Javier Mascherano, 7 – Picked ahead of Carles Puyol in a selection surprise, the Argentine midfielder gave a composed showing in an unnatural position.
Eric Abidal, 8 – Just weeks after surgery for liver cancer, the French left-back completed an emotional season by completely shutting down Antonio Valencia.
Sergio Busquets, 7 – A no-frills display from the Spanish midfielder but he was effective enough at breaking up play.
Xavi, 8 – The Spanish midfielder, installed as acting captain in the absence of Carles Puyol, provided the assist for Pedro’s opener with a sublime pass with the outside of his foot.
Andres Iniesta, 7 – Not the most influential performance from the Spanish playmaker but he kept the ball moving well enough to frustrate United.
Lionel Messi, 9 – The Argentina forward ascended to the ranks of the immortals with a magnificent display. Put Barca back in front with a low strike in the 54th minute and helped set up their third goal.
David Villa, 8 – The livewire striker put the seal of Barca’s victory with a brilliant curling goal from the edge of the area in the 68th minute.
Pedro, 7 – One of Barca’s lesser lights took centre-stage as he opened the scoring in the 27th minute with a cool finish after a perfectly timed run onto Xavi’s pass.
Seydou Keita, 6 – Brought on to shut up shop and the midfielder did the job effectively.
Carles Puyol, 5 – A touching moment for the club captain as he came on for the final minutes.
Ibrahim Affellay, 5 – Given just a few moments in the closing stages.
Edwin Van der Sar, 6 – The 40-year-old goalkeeper’s final match before retirement ended in bitter disappointment as he was beaten by Messi’s low shot when he could have done better.
Fabio da Silva, 6 – Selected ahead of his twin brother Rafael at right-back, the Brazilian stuck to his task well but couldn’t deal with Barca’s movement.
Rio Ferdinand, 6 – The England defender spent most of the match pinned on the edge of his penalty area trying to keep Barca at bay.
Nemanja Vidic, 7 – A solid display by United’s captain for the most part, but Barca’s relentless attacks eventually overwhelmed the Serbian defender.
Patrice Evra, 6 – Not one of the French left-back’s better days but many defenders could say that after facing Barca.
Antonio Valencia, 5 – Regarded as a major threat to Pep Guardiola’s team, the winger failed to produce.
Michael Carrick, 5 – Not for the first time against Barca, the England midfielder found it impossible to make any impact and was replaced in the second half.
Ryan Giggs, 5 – After a traumatic week for the Welshman following allegations about his private life, this was a disappointingly subdued display.
Park Ji-Sung, 7 – The South Korean set the tempo for United in the first half with some crunching tackles and typically tenacious harrying.
Wayne Rooney, 7 – The England forward has sometimes flopped on the big occasion but there could be no complaints this time as he equalised for United in the 34th minute with a superb strike.
Javier Hernandez, 5 – After a sensational first season at United, this was a match too far for the Mexican striker, who rarely troubled Barca in a nervous display.
Paul Scholes, 5 – The veteran midfielder had little opportunity to make his influence tell in the closing stages.
Nani, 5 – The Portgual winger came to get United back into the match but was easily beaten by Messi in the build-up to Barca’s decisive third goal.