This year’s Champions League final went the way that most people expected it to, with Barcelona emerging victorious over Italian giants Juventus. The build up surrounding the game centred on Barca’s formidable front three, the farewells of two of the greatest midfielders of all time – Andrea Pirlo and Xavi – and whether or not Luis Suarez would hit the headlines for the right reasons as he came face to face with nemesis Patrice Evra.
As it was, two of the front three scored, Xavi got his dream farewell, and Suarez absolutely hit the headlines for all the right reasons as Barcelona completed the treble. The 3-1 scoreline perhaps flatters the Spanish club and Juve deserve plenty of credit for how far they managed to push Barca.
It is their fourth Champions League success in nine years, having also won the tournament in 2006, 2009 and 2011. And as the jubilant scenes got under way at the final whistle, there was a look of acceptance on the faces of several Juve players. They seemed to acknowledge that Barca are a cut above pretty much everyone else in the world.
Ahead of the game, the question that seemed to be getting asked the most wasn’t whether Barcelona would win, but how many they would win by. Juventus perhaps were thriving on the status of underdogs but must have feared the worst when Barca took the lead in the fourth minute.
So much is said about Lionel Messi, Suarez and Neymar that it is sometimes easy to forget that Barcelona have arguably the best bunch of midfielders in the world too, and it was one of those midfielders that scored the opening goal. He has probably been Barcelona’s unsung hero this season, but Ivan Rakitic will go down in Catalan folklore for his goal in Berlin. A wonderful team move saw Messi pick out Jordi Alba, before the full back played in Neymar, who slipped in Iniesta and the majestic Spaniard squared for Rakitic to score.
The stage was set and the Juventus players began to get impatient – some bad challenges were flying in, particularly from Arturo Vidal. The Chile international was perhaps lucky to stay on the pitch after a few reckless challenges after he had been booked.
But the Italian side regained their composure and started to frustrate Barcelona, restricting them to just a few decent chances whilst creating some of their own. A game that could have been over before it had really begun was still finely balanced at half time with Barcelona 1-0 up.
The second half sprung a bit of a surprise as Juve managed to take control for a short while and ex-Real Madrid player Álvaro Morata – who played a big part in knocking Madrid out in the semi finals – managed to equalise within ten minutes of the second half. Carlos Tevez’s snap shot was well saved by Marc Andre ter Stegen but Morata was on hand to turn in the rebound.
But whilst the fans of Juventus started to get their hopes up, Barcelona started to regain control. It was the controversial Uruguayan Suarez that smashed Barca back in front. It was almost a carbon copy of Morata’s goal, with Messi’s shot being parried into Suarez’s path by Gianluigi Buffon. He couldn’t miss and it was almost three just moments later when Neymar headed in, but the Brazilian saw his goal harshly disallowed for handball.
That was a huge let off for Juventus and they toiled to try and get back in it. However, the most poignant moment of the game overshadowed Juventus’ efforts when Iniesta made way for his friend and Barca legend Xavi, who also took the armband. It was a sentimental move, but one that was greeted positively by the majority of football fans around the world. He slotted in effortlessly and Barca kept playing the game their way, taking risks and counter attacking Juventus at will.
And the 97th minute strike from Neymar sealed the win and sparked wild celebrations. The ball went forward to Neymar – who had done well to stay onside – and he cleverly managed to hold it up and pick out Pedro, before having the ball returned to him. With an unbelievable level of calm he managed to slot the ball past the massive frame of Buffon before leaping over the advertising hoardings and being mobbed by the photographers and Barca players and staff.
That was that. The best team won. Barcelona regained their status as the world’s best side after being trophyless last season. All that was left was to see Xavi lift the trophy. This moment had been eagerly anticipated by fans of Barcelona and football itself, and the emotional Spanish genius triumphantly lifted yet another piece of silverware.
Success comes naturally to Barca but Xavi leaves on a massive high following the treble. But Barca will move on, with the challenge to replicate or even better this season next time around. Some might say they’re back, others would say they never went away.