Barca-Man Utd a dream final for strikers

Barcelona is out to do much more than just take the Champions League title away from Manchester United when they meet in the final at Rome.

updated: May 08, 2009 07:34 IST
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Barcelona is out to do much more than just take the Champions League title away from Manchester United when they meet in the final at Rome.

Pep Guardiola's team wants to prove itself the best and most entertaining side in the world.

After United knocked out Arsenal on Tuesday and Barcelona eliminated Chelsea on Wednesday, the two European powerhouses will square off on May 27 in the matchup fans across the continent have looked forward to all season.

While United is trying to hold on to the title it won in Moscow last year, Barcelona is chasing its third title and hoping to end the English Premier League's recent dominance in European football's most prestigious competition.

Both teams also look set to win their domestic leagues, with United three points ahead in the Premier League with a game in hand, and Barcelona seven in front in La Liga.

But the statistics aren't the most important thing in this final.

It is a meeting of perhaps the two most entertaining sides in Europe, both of them with big-name forwards who enjoy taking opponents apart with their imaginative interpassing.

"It's great to be playing against such a top side as Manchester United," Guardiola said after a dramatic 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge put his team through on away goals. Andres Iniesta equalized in the third minute of injury time after Michael Essien's ninth-minute strike threatened to put Chelsea through.

United manager Alex Ferguson has to decide which of his three main strikers _ Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez _ to leave on the bench, with Cristiano Ronaldo also attacking from the wings.

Guardiola usually sends his trio of strikers _ Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o _ out together, and they have rewarded him with a combined 69 league goals out of a total of 100. That century was reached on Saturday with a spectacular 6-2 victory at Real Madrid, Barcelona's main rival.

The likelihood of all these attacking stars playing at Rome's Olympic Stadium suggests the game could be one of the best in the 53-year history of the competition.

Behind these forwards are some of the best midfielders, too.

United will be able to field veterans Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, while Barca has Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, two of the stars of Spain's impressive triumph at last year's European Championship.

Barcelona reached its sixth final despite the absence of three defenders on Wednesday through injury or suspension. Defender Eric Abidal was sent off against Chelsea on Wednesday and will be suspended for the final as will Daniel Alves, who picked up a second yellow card in the competition. But Guardiola will have Carles Puyol back after serving a ban.

United meanwhile, has set some impressive defensive records this season.

United's center back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic made huge contributions to goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar going a British record 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal in the league.

Giggs gets the chance to be on the winning side for the third time, having also played in the 1999 and 2008 finals. Scholes was suspended for the '99 victory over Bayern Munich in Barcelona but played in last year's win over Chelsea.

"It's not a nice feeling when you have to sit there and watch the final. Obviously if you're team is in the final, you want to be involved," said Scholes, who has just gone past 600 appearances for the Reds. "It's the biggest game of your life, the European Cup final, everyone wants to be playing and it's desperately disappointing if you can't be."

United midfielder Darren Fletcher will get that experience this time, after being harshly sent off for bringing down Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas in the second leg of the semifinals with his team already coasting at 3-0 up.