Tuesday, 26 May 2009

CL Final: Eternal City set for grand finale

Barcelona and Manchester United are ready to put on a spectacle worthy of a place in history when they meet in the UEFA Champions League final in Rome, the Eternal City.

Barcelona v Manchester Utd - Roma 2009Two of European football's most evocative names, the newly crowned champions of England and Spain, cross paths at the Stadio Olimpico with Premier League, League Cup and FIFA World Club Cup champions United aiming to become the first team in 19 years to successfully defend the European Cup and the first in the Champions League era.

Having already lifted the Primera Liga and Copa del Rey this month, Barcelona have the chance to claim an unprecedented Spanish treble.

It promises to be one of the more stylish gladiatorial contests staged in the city of the Colosseum, with Sir Alex Ferguson saying simply: "It has the capability to be a fantastic final."

The Premier League giants have never lost a European Cup final while two of this competition's three previous showpiece matches in Rome ended in an English victory.

According to Sir Alex, another success is essential to justify his club's ever-growing stature.

"I've repeated many times we should have done better in Europe. To be in the pantheon of great teams, the prerequisite is to win this cup.

"It's an opportunity for us to go alongside a lot of the great teams. This team has that type of future – it's a young squad with the right type of experience which can do well in the next few years. Hopefully we can endorse that."

Captain Rio Ferdinand is fit again after a calf injury, although United will be without the suspended Darren Fletcher as they bid to become the first side since AC Milan in 1989 and 1990 to land back-to-back European Cups.

"We're good at doing things for the first time," Sir Alex added with pride. "It's interesting and unusual that no one has defended the trophy since the Champions League started, because in the history of the European Cup it was done regularly. We have an opportunity to change that and hopefully we can take it."

While the United boss is at the end of his 35th season as a manager, Josep Guardiola is concluding his first and, though two trophies are already in the Camp Nou trophy cabinet, the 38-year-old – 29 years Sir Alex's junior – is not finished yet.

"It's been a great season but it can still finish badly, there's a lot still to do. In football things can change very suddenly.

"I've been very lucky to have a squad of players who are very good tactically and technically. We want to show how good we are and how hard we've worked by winning tomorrow."

Barcelona's usual full-backs Daniel Alves and Eric Abidal are both suspended and Rafael Marquez has a knee injury so Yaya Toure will drop back to central defence with captain Carles Puyol filling in at right-back, Seydou Keita on the left and 20-year-old Sergi Busquets replacing Keita in midfield.

Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry should be fit after thigh and knee problems respectively, with Guardiola adding: "If they're OK they will play – if they're not, they won't. I think they'll be there.

"I would have liked to have more players at my disposal but that's how it is. It's going to be a great final."

UEFA President Michel Platini said security in the Italian capital is fully under control ahead of the sell-out final.

"We're ready, we've done everything possible and we're not worried about safety," Platini said. "It's all under control, the Stadio Olimpico looks great and there's nothing left for us to do except pray."

Platini, who will present the captain of the victorious team with the trophy, meanwhile refused to be drawn on predicting a winner.

"Football is unpredictable, and Barcelona and Manchester United are both very strong teams. It will certainly be a very exciting match," he said.

With both teams already in Rome, English and Spanish fans have also been arriving in the capital ahead of the match.

Rome city council said it expected 50,000 fans, 30,000 English and 20,000 Spanish, by Wednesday evening. The council introduced a total ban on the sale of alcohol around the stadium and in Rome's historic centre that will not be lifted until Thursday morning in a bid to keep fans' behaviour under control.

Italian Prime Minister and AC Milan President Silvio Berlusconi will be amongst a long list of VIP guests who will attend the final.

Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will join King Juan Carlos of Spain at the stadium while the United Kingdom's Prince William will be present to support Manchester United, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has decided not to attend.

Source: UEFA

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