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They gained critics in the semi-finals, but come the big night the sheer class of the Catalan club saw them obliterate any doubts that they're the best team in the world

COMMENT
By Kris Voakes

The talk in England was of Manchester United’s revenge, but in the end it was Barcelona’s redemption that stole the headlines as they recorded their fourth Champions League triumph on Saturday night. Pilloried for their part in the captivating yet chaotic semi-final first-leg in Madrid, when the closing credits rolled there could be nothing but admiration for the Blaugrana’s wonderful Wembley showing.

It seems strange after such a wonderful performance to suggest that this team had to defend themselves against accusations they’d brought the game into disrepute, but that was the word around Europe just four weeks ago.

THEN... ... AND NOW


It all came to a head in the Battle of the Bernabeu, the third in a series of four Clasicos that had started to raise tempers to boiling point. Their perceived play-acting and haranguing of officials brought them critics where previously there had been little to suggest Barcelona were anything but a magnificent footballing side. Real Madrid spent the last half-hour playing with 10 men and Barca made them pay, but not without scenes which embarrassed both clubs. With half-time fights and stoppages galore, the Catalans were called out for putting pressure on the referee, with Blancos boss Jose Mourinho saying afterwards: “Sometimes it’s disgusting to live in this world… Uefa doesn’t allow any team to really do something against them.”

THE PLAUDITS
But in London last night they were nothing but breathtaking. With the speed and control of their passing dragging United here and there, they made football look easy – look beautiful – as the European Cup witnessed one of its best team performances in decades. Here was a side with a point to prove, and they did so in the very best style possible. Nobody could claim any different this time, as there was simply nothing negative to say about them.

“We’ve never played teams that good,” said Red Devils’ captain Nemanja Vidic after the game, as the dawning realisation of just how great this Barcelona team – and just how far behind everybody else is – hit all concerned. Vidic’s boss Sir Alex Ferguson, with his many extra years of experience stored up, gave them even greater credit. “I think they’re the best team we’ve played… from time to time you come up against a team that’s far better than you and tonight was that night.”

Right now Barcelona can only be summed up by the way they pulled Manchester United apart, and by the magnificent gesture of allowing Eric Abidal to lift the trophy after his amazing recovery from life-saving liver surgery. It was a beautiful picture in keeping with everything else we had seen from the moment they stepped on the pitch. Not only that, it was the true face of Barcelona, the club which from the start of Pep Guardiola’s reign has approached the game in the right way both on and off the pitch almost without fail, and it was the killer blow for the critics.

While the non-believers may have had their moment in Madrid, Barcelona are Barcelona again. And after a night to treasure, nobody can deny their position at the very top of world football.

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