Two of European football's most evocative names, FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC are ready to put on a spectacle worthy of a place in history when they meet in the UEFA Champions League final in Rome.
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FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC are ready to put on a spectacle worthy of a place in history when they meet in the UEFA Champions League final in Rome, the Eternal City.
Two of European football's most evocative names, the newly crowned champions of England and Spain, cross paths at the Stadio Olimpico with United aiming to become the first team in 19 years to successfully defend the European Champion Clubs' Cup and the first in the UEFA Champions League era. Having already lifted the Liga and Copa del Rey this month Barcelona have the chance to claim an unprecedented Spanish treble. It promises to be one of the more stylish gladiatorial contests staged in the city of the Colosseum, with Sir Alex Ferguson saying simply: "It has the capability to be a fantastic final."
United have never lost a European Cup final while two of this competition's three previous showpiece matches in Rome ended in an English victory. According to Sir Alex, another success is essential to justify his club's ever-growing stature. "I've repeated many times we should have done better in Europe. To be in the pantheon of great teams, the prerequisite is to win this cup. It's an opportunity for us to go alongside a lot of the great teams. This team has that type of future – it's a young squad with the right type of experience which can do well in the next few years. Hopefully we can endorse that."
Captain Rio Ferdinand is fit again after a calf injury, although United will be without the suspended Darren Fletcher as they bid to become the first side since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990 to land back-to-back European Cups. "We're good at doing things for the first time," Sir Alex added with pride. "It's interesting and unusual that no one has defended the trophy since the Champions League started, because in the history of the European Cup it was done regularly. We have an opportunity to change that and hopefully we can take it."
While the United boss is at the end of his 35th season as a manager, Josep Guardiola is concluding his first and, though two trophies are already in the Camp Nou cabinet, the 38-year-old – 29 years Sir Alex's junior – is not finished yet. "It's been a great season but it can still finish badly, there's a lot still to do. In football things can change very suddenly. I've been very lucky to have a squad of players who are very good tactically and technically. We want to show how good we are and how hard we've worked by winning tomorrow."
Barcelona's usual full-backs Daniel Alves and Eric Abidal are suspended and Rafael Márquez has a knee injury so Yaya Touré will drop back to central defence with captain Carles Puyol filling in at right-back, Seydou Keita on the left and 20-year-old Sergi Busquets replacing Keita in midfield. Andrés Iniesta and Thierry Henry should be fit after thigh and knee problems respectively, with Guardiola adding: "If they're OK they will play – if they're not, they won't. I think they'll be there. I would have liked to have more players at my disposal but that's how it is. It's going to be a great final."