Rome confounds critics with smooth showpiece

ROME - The Stadio Olimpico turned out to be the perfect setting for Barcelona's Champions League triumph in Rome with off-the-field problems failing to spoil the party like some had predicted.

The pitch was especially in perfect condition, allowing treble winners Barca to stroke the ball around in their trademark style and easily beat holders Manchester United 2-0 on Wednesday.

Despite having AS Roma or Lazio play there every week for the past nine months, the surface was as smooth as a Xavi pass.

Fans make atmospheres, but only in great stadiums can an occasion really come to life and the 67,000 sellout produced some wonderful colour from United's Matt Busby tribute to the sea of red, blue and yellow at the Barca end.

Roma and Lazio are considering building their own stadiums and the future of the Olimpico is uncertain. Despite the running track which leaves fans a little away from the action, the pair will struggle to construct anything as monumental.

United coach Alex Ferguson is probably bemoaning the running track, which kept him a good distance from the pitch.

He rarely ventured out into his huge technical area to bark orders as his team put in one of the weakest performances their fans will be able to remember in a big match.

Indeed, United's surprising nervousness was the only let down of the night, which neutrals had dubbed 'the dream final' between Europe's best two attacking teams.

United keeper Edwin van der Sar, who lost the 1996 final when Juventus beat Ajax at the Olimpico, was sick of the sight of the stadium.

"It's true, Rome doesn't bring me luck," he told reporters. "We started well then after the first goal we suffered and we didn't play at the level we are used to."

Violence in and around the ground had marred previous European matches in Rome and UEFA even threatened to take the final away at one point if more trouble ensued.

Britain's Times newspaper called for the game to be switched to another venue because of fears of Roman gangs with knifes.

Two stabbings were reported in the city on Tuesday and there was some minor trouble after the game, but it was little more than happens at any big soccer clash.

"Rome's future candidature for other international events depends on the success of this showpiece," mayor Gianni Alemanno said.

The ancient city, which hosts the world swimming championships in July, is mulling a possible Olympic bid for 2020 and Wednesday's flawless final is sure to help its case.