Star-studded teams in Champions final

Updated: 26 May 2009 10:48 IST

From Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi to Wayne Rooney vs Thierry Henry, this Champions League final shapes up as a classic matchup.


From Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi to Wayne Rooney vs Thierry Henry, this Champions League final shapes up as a classic matchup in European club football's showpiece.

Manchester United against Barcelona features two of the most entertaining teams in football in a contest to determine which is the strongest in Europe, if not the world.

A glance at the two talented strikeforces and imaginative midfields on show at Rome's Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday gives neutral fans a taste of what could be one of the best ever finals.

"I think they are two great teams, who in my mind play the best football, and whoever wins the final in Rome will be proclaimed the best team in the world," Messi said. "It's been my best year, without doubt. For the football, the play, for the goals and I hope to crown it with the Champions League."

A strong contender to succeed Man United's Ronaldo as FIFA player of the year, Messi missed out on Barcelona's 2006 triumph because he was injured and didn't make it to the final against Arsenal.

Now the Argentina star faces up to a Man United side which won the title last season by beating Chelsea in a penalty shootout in Moscow and is aiming to become the first club since AC Milan in 1989-90 to lift the trophy two seasons in a row.

Having won the Premier League for the third time in a row, 11th in 17 seasons and tied Liverpool's record of 18 league titles, United is chasing its fourth trophy of the season. Alex Ferguson's team has also captured the FIFA Club World Cup and domestic League Cup to take the veteran manager's haul at United to 26 trophies in 23 years after 10 in seven as manager of Aberdeen.

Barcelona hopes to complete a season's treble after winning the Spanish League and Cup in coach Pep Guardiola's first season in charge. He also won the European title as a player in 1992 when Barcelona beat Italy's Sampdoria at Wembley, although he was on the losing side when the team was outplayed 4-0 by AC Milan.

Ferguson vs Guardiola is another intriguing confrontation. The 38-year-old Guardiola, who began as a ball boy at Camp Nou, started out as a player at Barcelona in 1990 at the time Ferguson began winning titles at Man United.

The 67-year-old Scot has managed to successfully rebuild new teams at Old Trafford during his long spell at the club, leading the Red Devils to a sweep of three titles in 1999 when they beat Bayern Munich 2-1 by scoring two late goals in Barcelona.

Ferguson has been frustrated that he and United have not won the title more often.

"When I won my first Champions League title against Bayern Munich I said: 'Good, that's out of the road (way)' because that was always a criticism of me," said Ferguson, who took over at the club in 1986.

"Then we went through a dry zone and we had to wait another nine years to do it. Now we're in a situation where we're n another final already (after last year), which is phenomenal."

Last year, United had to go to penalties to subdue dogged but unspectacular Chelsea after a 1-1 draw in rainsoaked Moscow. Rome has been warm and dry for several days, and now United takes on a Barcelona team which will be looking for goals from the first minute having netted more than 150 in league and cup games this season.

In Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Henry, who hopes to shake off a knee injury for the final, Barcelona has a strikeforce to match or even outplay United's front men. Ferguson is unlikely to field Ronaldo, Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez all at the same time, and there is speculation that two of them will be on the bench when the game kicks off.

Likewise, Ferguson is unlikely to field both of his 30-something midfielders Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs at the same time against the top quality duo of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

But Ferguson should have the edge when it comes to defense.

If Rio Ferdinand can shake off a calf muscle injury and play alongside Nemanja Vidic in central defense, that lineup at the back can show why the team went a British record 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal in the league during midseason.

Barcelona, by contrast, is counting the cost of having Brazilian rightback Daniel Alves and French leftback Eric Abidal missing through suspension and Mexican centerback Rafael Marquez out through injury.

Wednesday's game could be Tevez' last in a United shirt. The Argentina forward has said he expects to leave because United won't pay 25 million pounds ($37.5 million; euro28.5 million) to turn his two-year loan deal into a full term contract.

The only thing missing from this final are any Italians.

Although the showpiece game is being played in Italy's capital, Serie A has missed out again in a competition it used to dominate when AC Milan and Juventus were at their best.

Now Italy's top teams can only watch, although there are security fears that local fans may try to ambush the spectacle by targeting the visiting 50,000 spectators from England and Spain, who have been advised to stay away from certain parts of the city on match day.

Topics : Football
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