Midfield machine steers Barcelona to victory

LONDON - The midfield machine behind Spain's first World Cup success ticked back into the same relentless rhythm to deliver Barcelona's fourth European Cup triumph at a spellbound Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Technically, tactically and temperamentally superior, and with the genius of Lionel Messi to provide the coup de grace, Barca crushed Manchester United with the simple logic that without the ball you can't do your opponents a lot of damage.

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It must have been a depressingly familiar feeling for Sir Alex Ferguson and the eight members of the starting XI that had also begun the final in Rome two years ago, as Barcelona completed a 3-1 victory that might easily have been a far higher margin.

Then, as now, the English side began by snapping at Catalan heels and threatening to exploit a defence with just a hint of vulnerability about it.

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Then, as now, it took barely 10 minutes for the Barcelona midfield to exert their authority and carry the team to a comprehensive two-goal victory.

Unlike in Rome, when United were beaten 2-0, the english side recovered from a first-half goal to equalise as Wayne Rooney wafted in a fine shot after starting the move himself.

If there was any hint that they might go on to triumph despite having only a passing acquaintance with the ball it was disabused by a ruthless second-half Barcelona display.

It fell to the three strikers to score the three goals - Messi following up Pedro's first-half opener by scoring the second himself and helping create the third for David Villa with an outrageous turn past substitute Nani on the right - but this was a triumph built on the extraordinary work done in midfield.

PASSING RHYTHM

Xavi continually dropped deep to work his way forward, finding space where none appeared to exist thanks to the deftness of his touch and eye for the right pass - the inevitable pass as it seems when you watch the replay.

Iniesta, the man who scored the winning goal in last year's World Cup final victory over Netherlands in South Africa, maintained the same passing rhythm while both looked to feed Messi in central areas outside the penalty area.

Xavi completed 124 of 136 passes, while Iniesta found his intended target 98 times out of 107.

Barcelona enjoyed 63 percent of the possession and it would have been much higher had they not felt comfortable enough to relax the rhythm over the closing minutes thanks to that two-goal cushion.

There was no surprise in any of this, nothing Ferguson and everyone else has not seen on countless other occasions watching Spain and Barcelona, but the execution was so good that the United manager acknowledged his side had been left helpless.

"I think it was obvious what happened tonight," Ferguson sai