The talk before the 2008/09 decider was of a final showdown between FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Manchester United FC's Cristiano Ronaldo, but the young Argentinian was to come out on top.
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FC Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United FC
(Eto'o 10, Messi 70)
Stadio Olimpico, Rome
The talk before the final was of a final showdown between Europe's two great young attacking talents, FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Manchester United FC's Cristiano Ronaldo. However, it was to be something of a no-contest, with the English side's dream of becoming the first side to win back-to-back titles in the UEFA Champions League era ending meekly, as Josep Guardiola became the sixth person to win the European Champion Clubs' Cup as a coach and a player.
"It was a big opportunity for us and with our players I expected better, but we couldn't recover from losing the first goal," conceded a disappointed Sir Alex Ferguson after the match. Ronaldo had threatened with two early efforts, but the deadlock was broken after just ten minutes by Samuel Eto'o, who collected the ball from Andrés Iniesta and turned defender Nemanja Vidić before beating Edwin van der Sar.
The holders eventually muscled their way back into the game, but 20 minutes from the end it was all over as Xavi Hernández's pinpoint ball picked out Messi, who had space to score his ninth goal of the competition – a rare header for the diminutive Argentinian. Ronaldo had another good effort shortly afterwards, but there was no stopping Barça becoming the first Spanish side to win league, cup and UEFA Champions League in the same season.
"We're very happy, delirious," said Guardiola, in his first season as the club's coach having won the 1992 European Cup with Barcelona as a midfielder. "We're aware that we've done something magnificent. I'd like to congratulate the whole club and the fans. We're not the best team in Barça history but we've had the best season. We've won three trophies but it's also about how we've won them."
The 2008/09 group stage was notable for the presence of four rank outsiders: Denmark's Aalborg BK, Cyprus' Anorthosis Famagusta FC, Romania's CFR 1907 Cluj and FC BATE Borisov of Belarus, all of whom exited the competition with their dignity intact. The same could hardly be said of Sporting Clube de Portugal who lost 5-0 at home and 7-1 to FC Bayern München in the first knockout round, with the latter result – and the 12-1 aggregate scoreline – a post-group stage record.
Bayern were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Barça, who had accounted for Olympique Lyonnais in the Round of 16, while Iniesta's late goal at Chelsea FC earned them a 1-1 draw, following a goalless home leg, to seal their passage to Rome on away goals. United's knockout stage path had seen them overcome FC Internazionale Milano, FC Porto and, in the last four, Arsenal FC.