Left-back Patrice Evra recognised that Manchester United FC had been beaten by no ordinary team while keeper Edwin van der Sar reflected on an unhappy farewell appearance.
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It is no salve for the pain of a UEFA Champions League final defeat but Manchester United FC were beaten by the best team in the world. That was the verdict of Old Trafford defender Patrice Evra, who praised FC Barcelona's players for their almost telepathic understanding as he reflected on Saturday's 3-1 loss.
"The best team won tonight," said Evra. "I think we have to give credit to Barcelona. Even though I play for Manchester United and we always want to be the best in the world, tonight Barcelona were the best. For the moment we have to accept that for the last four years Barcelona have been the best team in the world, and United the second."
For United there was no repeat of their 1968 Wembley triumph in this competition as instead the clock turned back just two years to 2009 and their 2-0 Rome reverse against the Catalan club. Again the deficit was two goals as Lionel Messi and David Villa struck in the second half after Wayne Rooney had cancelled out Pedro Rodríguez's opening strike.
Barcelona had 63% of possession and 12 shots on target to United's one as the Blaugrana's "passing carousel" – as Sir Alex Ferguson once described it – left his side with spinning heads. "We know each other, but they know each other so well, so perfectly," Evra added. "Every time Messi gets the ball he knows Xavi is going to be there, Pedro is going to be there, or Iniesta. It was very difficult, Barcelona keep the ball really well."
As in Rome, United made a positive start, pressing Barcelona high up the pitch. Whereas Samuel Eto'o made the breakthrough after ten minutes on that occasion, it was not until the 27th minute that Pedro slotted the opener past Edwin van der Sar.
United were confident before the match that they were better prepared to face Barcelona, and Van der Sar articulated the feeling in the camp that they managed a better performance than two years ago despite the identical outcome. "They played some good football, but we knew that already, and we tried to come up with something to stop them," the goalkeeper said. "I think it went OK in the first 20 minutes. We put some pressure on them and we held out 15 minutes longer than in Rome.
"It's unfortunate they had the first goal; it would have been nice if maybe we could have had it and maybe that could have changed the game. It was very good for morale to get that goal back and 1-1 at half-time was an OK score, but ten minutes after the break they scored again and that was hard to take."
That goal came from the left foot of Messi, who beat Van der Sar with a shot from outside the box after the failure of the United defence to close him down. "I thought I was positioned well as I thought Vidić was blocking that side," said Van der Sar, playing his last match before retiring. "One game too many" was the verdict of the 40-year-old on his unhappy farewell, though without some of his saves the scale of defeat could have been even heavier.