On a sodden night at the Camp Nou, the torrential rain could do nothing to dampen Barcelona’s spirits as their 1-1 draw with Real Madrid cemented a 3-1 aggregate win and a place in the Champions League final at Wembley. Real’s disallowed second-half goal would have made proceedings a lot more interesting had it actually counted but overall, the Catalans proved worthy winners across the two legs and are likely to play Manchester United in the final showpiece.
Once all the on and off-pitch nonsense, the bile, the bitterness and the allegations are scraped away, few could argue that Barcelona played the more attacking and more positive brand of football over the two ties. Sadly, it appears that this semi-final will be remembered for its darker side instead of highlighting the genius of Lionel Messi’s second goal in the Santiago Bernabeu or the incisive precision of Pedro Rodriguez’s strike in the Camp Nou.
Credit must also go to coach Pep Guardiola whose unmoving faith in the attacking system preached by the Catalans paid off against a Real side who had a rather negative outlook to their play and formation. Fans in Madrid must have been screaming for an attacking line-up and who could blame them when one considers the wealth of talent in the squad combined with the proud traditions of wearing the all-white kit.
Aside from the fact that their side made another major final, perhaps Barcelona’s supporters will fondly recall the last few minutes of the game when defender Eric Abidal made his eagerly anticipated return after recovering from the removal of a tumour. The Frenchman received a rapturous reception from the crowd of 90,000 and was the focal point of his team-mates’ celebrations after the final whistle, an example of the team spirit that has been a remarkable factor in their rise to the summit of European and perhaps even world football.
Built on that rock of togetherness, their hunger to win and win playing a spectacular style of football is a trait that has won them many admirers. For all the accusations of cheating on and off the field this season, the players have managed to reach the final of every competition they entered and are all but champions of Spain with four games to play; a laudable achievement when one considers the pressures of being the top team in a league where every team raises their respective game against them.
Barcelona now look onwards and upwards as they chase a league and European Cup double. Having hurdled the great barrier that was the month of April with all its traps and pitfalls, Guardiola and his players must have received a tremendous psychological boost. So to Wembley: the place where Barcelona’s love affair with the Champions League began and where they will hope to add a fourth European crown to their impressive collection.