At once it was much closer and yet much wider than the final score would indicate, but in the end the final score looked pretty much as everyone expected. Despite a Herculean effort by Gianluigi Buffon in goal for Juventus, the Italian champions were finally overwhelmed by the most fearsome multifaceted attack in the world as Barcelona took home the European Cup with a 3-1 victory in the UEFA Champions League final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on Saturday.
From the outset it felt like it was only a matter of time before the Catalan coronation commenced. Juventus had the run of play at the opening whistle, earning a corner right away, but once the initial onslaught was parried away by the blaugrana the momentum shifted almost immediately. A quick strike for the first goal built up initially when Lionel Messi sent a bending left-footed pass across the pitch to Jordi Alba, who tapped on to Neymar. The Brazilian slotted the pass through to Andres Iniesta, who danced through the box toward goal before laying off for Ivan Rakitic. The Croatian made easy work of the helpless Buffon, who could only watch as the ball flew past him.
Only four minutes had passed at this point, and it began to feel as though the match would soon get out of hand. Every time Juventus seemed to regain its balance, Barcelona was there to knock them off-kilter once again. Arturo Vidal collected a yellow card in the 11th minute, as Sergio Busquets fooled the referee on a play that drew little actual contact. Vidal, however, only turned up his intensity, playing on the edge of ejection. Barcelona forced another stellar Buffon save a few minutes later, as Luis Suarez found Dani Alves for a chance. The ball flew oddly through the air, and a wrong-footed Buffon was able to stick out a left arm to punch it awkwardly away and keep Juventus in the match.
Barcelona nearly caught Buffon off his line as the first half wound down, as the keeper made an errant pass that found Messi. Suarez was streaking in, but Messi was unable to find him to take advantage of Buffon out of position. The two clubs headed to the dressing rooms of the Olympiastadion with the Spanish champions leading 1-0. Both teams had their chances, but Barcelona had the lead.
Coming back from the intermission, both clubs came back out hunting for the next goal. Suarez missed the target in the 49th minute on another clever build-up, but it was instead Juventus that found the next goal six minutes later. Stephan Lichtsteiner played a give-and-go off a Claudio Marchisio backheel, running into the box before finding Carlos Tevez near the penalty spot. The Argentine striker unleashed his left foot, forcing Marc-Andre ter Stegen to make a tough save. The Dutch keeper, however, couldn’t hold on to the ball, and his rebound fell right to the feet of Alvaro Morata. The other nerazzurri forward cleaned up for the equalizer, slotting coolly home with his right foot.
Thirteen minutes later, Luis Suarez finally found the net after several near-misses for what ultimately proved to be the match winner. Rakitic launched a long ball downfield that fell right to Messi’s feet. La Pulga returned the favor that had just been inflicted upon his goalkeeper, putting Buffon in position to make the initial save. The carom, though, fell right to Suarez, and the Uruguayan goalpoacher needed no further invitation to notch his seventh goal of the tournament. Simply getting a foot on the ball, he redirected the rebound into open space where Buffon could only watch his team fall behind yet again. Just 22 minutes remained before stoppage time.
It appeared as though Neymar had punched in a third goal for Barcelona, just four minutes after Suarez had regained the lead. Jordi Alba sent a spot-perfect cross into the box from the left wing, and the young Brazilian wunderkind was in position to get a strong header on the ball. But, overexcited about the gaping net and gift-wrapped opportunity before him, Neymar put too much downforce in his strike and headed the ball into his own elbow for an inadvertent handball. The crisis was averted for the moment and Juventus continued to push for another equalizer.
Five minutes of stoppage time were added to the end of the second half, and the referee would ultimately extend it even further. With the last dying moments of the competition ticking away and the result already assured, Neymar finally atoned for his earlier blunder. Gerard Pique launched the counter off a Juventus free kick, passing off to Messi. The Argentine sent another pinpoint long ball forward, finding the foot of Neymar. Flicking over to Pedro in the box, he cut into space for the return ball. This time there was no controversy as the Brazilian let fly a clinical finish past Buffon. Seconds later, the final whistle sounded and the celebrations commenced.
The victory cemented Barcelona’s place as the preeminent team of the past decade. This year’s victory secured the club’s fourth Champions League title in the past 10 years, as well as the second treble during that run after claiming the Spanish Liga and Copa del Rey last month. (In the process they also became the first club in Europe to achieve the treble on two occasions.)
Eight of their Champions League campaigns since 2006 have reached the semifinal round, and they have never failed to reach the knockout stage during that time period. And they have achieved that feat during a period when there is a greater proliferation of talent playing for a larger number of superclubs. Evolving from the tiki taka that defined the team philosophy under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona has created for itself a multifaceted attack that can eliminate teams in a diverse number of ways.
They can still lock down the ball and suffocate teams — they held 61 percent of the possession in Berlin. But they can also surgically strike on the counterattack, as the Suarez and Neymar goals showed all too clearly. No longer is this team dependent on death by a thousand passes… and yet they also connected on 505 of the 570 passes they attempted, an 88.6 percent success rate that is even more impressive when one considers how many long balls they played throughout the match.
Throughout the course of the season Barcelona’s play seemed to build toward this exultant crescendo in Germany. Juventus acquitted themselves honorably, belying the myth of Italy’s second-class status in the top tiers of European football. Yet in the end there was nothing that the nerazzurri could do to stop the critical mass that had built up to this point for their opponents.
Just as Paris-Saint Germain, Ajax, APOEL Nicosia, Manchester City, and Bayern Munich failed to slow down the unrelenting attack that Barcelona brought to the table, so too did Juventus resolutely try without success to keep themselves in the match. Once the gears clicked into place and the machinery started humming, though, an aura of inevitability had secured Barcelona’s place as the preeminent modern football dynasty of the 21st century.