FC Barcelona were crowned European champions for a third time – and the second in four seasons – as a vibrant display of pass and move, capped by goals in either half from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi, defeated Manchester United FC in Rome.
United, bidding to become the first team to successfully defend the trophy in the UEFA Champions League era, began an open contest at breakneck speed as Cristiano Ronaldo threatened three times. After ten minutes, however, Eto'o put the Spanish champions ahead and they never looked back. Xavi Hernández struck a post early in the second period and, though the clinching second goal did not arrive until the 70th minute – via, unusually, the head of Messi – Josep Guardiola's side were worthy winners. The 38-year-old becomes the sixth man to lift the European Champion Clubs' Cup as player and coach; United are the sixth club to lose the final as holders.
Fourteen of the players who started the game had featured in a UEFA Champions League final before, yet initially it seemed United's experience would prove more telling. Ronaldo made his presence felt by unleashing a dipping free-kick that Víctor Valdés could only parry; former United defender Gerard Piqué's last-ditch tackle prevented Ji-Sung Park from converting the rebound. Ronaldo then had Valdés scrambling across goal twice in as many minutes with shots from distance. If an early breakthrough looked imminent, disastrously for United it arrived when Barcelona struck with their first real attack.
Fit-again Andrés Iniesta was the orchestrator, finding Eto'o inside the area, but there was still plenty for the striker to do with Nemanja Vidić in close attendance. One swift turn inside the centre-back later, Eto'o was free to prod a shot inside Edwin van der Sar's near post. United's vocal supporters were stunned into silence and their team mirrored that reaction, with Barcelona enjoying the better of the half thereafter. Perhaps not surprisingly against the competition's best defence, however, clear chances were at a premium. Long-range efforts from Messi and Xavi, and a low Messi cross fumbled by Van der Sar, were the best Barça could muster.
Sir Alex Ferguson had said beforehand that his best team-talks "usually come to me about three in the morning" and the Scot sorely needed inspiration in his half-time instructions, opting to introduce Carlos Tévez for Anderson. This did little to stem the tide. Thierry Henry tricked his way past Rio Ferdinand only to shoot weakly against Van der Sar before Xavi curled a free-kick beyond the keeper, the post coming to United's rescue. Then Wayne Rooney's right-wing centre bounced over Park's lunge as the holders began to edge their way back into proceedings, disrupting Barcelona's rhythm though creating little of their own.
Twenty minutes from time, that hard work was undone. Xavi was allowed to advance down the right; with time and space, the midfielder measured a pinpoint cross for Messi, enjoying similar freedom, and the UEFA Champions League's top scorer produced a fabulous header for his ninth goal of this campaign. Valdés promptly denied Ronaldo to preserve the two-goal cushion, yet the better openings continued to come at the other end – Van der Sar frustrating Carles Puyol twice and Iniesta. Sir Alex therefore missed out on joining Bob Paisley as the only manager to lift three European Cups. Instead, Guardiola's superbly inventive Barça became the first Spanish side to win league, cup and UEFA Champions League in the same season.