By Madi Williamson
Barcelona dazzle in Berlin as they sweep through to win the UEFA Champions League 3-1 with goals from the Spanish side’s unsung hero Ivan Rakitic, the powerful South American striker Luis Suarez, and the hugely talented young Brazilian Neymar on a memorable night for the team from Catalonia.
The Italian champions played out a thrilling final against their Spanish counterparts in the Olympiastadion in Berlin. While Barcelona were the dominant team, Juventus put on a splendid display of speed, skill and organization with their time on the ball and contributed to one of the most exciting cup finals in recent years.
Typically with Barcelona the focus is placed on their notorious Three Amigos Suarez, Neymar and Messi up top but on the night, the primary orchestrators for the Catalans were their fantastic center-midfielders Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic. A fantastic run into the box and a smooth touch to the eagerly awaiting Jordi Alba was the play that opened up Juventus’s defense for Rakitic to fire his shot home and put Barcelona in the lead in just the fourth minute, the third fastest goal in Champions League Final history. Iniesta displayed world class touch and composure to easily beat the two defenders who were standing him up and found the run of Alba. The Spaniard took a spectacular first touch back to the waiting Croatian international and he made no mistake sending a composed finish past Buffon. Iniesta and Rakitic would continue to shine throughout the match until they were both brought off late in the second half.
Juventus had looked confident in the opening moments of the match and Tevez even had a decent glance at goal but Barcelona quickly turned the odds in their favor after taking the lead in the fourth minute. They followed up on their goal with a fantastic first-half display of disciplined passing mixed with creative runs forward. Juventus were clearly frustrated by their lack of time on the ball, Vidal in particular showing his irritation by conceding a series of chippy fouls on Barcelona’s attacking players. Barcelona were looking slightly shaky at the back when it came to defending the brilliantly fast counter-attacks from Juventus but they were only slightly phased by the pushes forward that were few and far between. While Barcelona adapted to Juventus’s key attacking strategies early on in the first half, the Italians struggled to handle the constantly-varied attacks from the Spaniards.
The golden chance for Juve in the first half came from their inspiring young striker Alvaro Morata in the 23rd minute. Just two meters away from goal, his shot glanced wide as Jordi Alba came in to defend. The best chances coming for Juventus were being gifted to them by Barcelona, Alba followed up on his late tackle on Morata with a horrible run out of the box where he was immediately dispossessed and ter Stegen was forced to make a save.
On the other end of the pitch, Juventus were fairly out of sorts and Suarez dragged a shot just wide. The Spanish side were dominating in possession and were quick to win the ball back if they lost it. Barcelona’s dominant passing in the midfield was the story of the first half and as the whistle sounded at the end of the first forty-five, Barcelona were comfortable with their 1-0 lead and Juventus were in dire need of a strike of inspiration.
Messi had been relatively quiet in the first half due to the adamant marking from Juve. Every time the Argentine received a pass he was immediately surrounded by two to three Juventus players. Right off the bat, Messi and Suarez combined to force a save from Buffon and continued to torment with their quick passing and excellent play off the ball. It seemed as though Barcelona were once again going to settle in to a comfortable passing game when Juventus snagged a vital goal to keep their hopes of winning the treble alive. A lightning-fast counter attack from Juventus started with a great run from Pogba and a brilliant ball to Tevez. The Argentine turned and got a shot off but it was blocked by ter Stegen. Barcelona’s defense had crumbled as all the defenders rushed to block Tevez’s shot and the rebounded save fell right to the feet of Morata. With an admirable amount of composure, he passed the ball into the back of the net past ter Stegen and put Juventus level.
The 55th minute was a turning point for Juve. The stroke of brilliance that they so desperately needed came from the feet of a young Spaniard who had left Real Madrid in La Liga for a career in Italy that has proven to be much more successful. Juventus now had a passing rhythm that they were able to settle in to while Barcelona were kept on their toes. The Italians were now creating chance after chance with Pogba combining his strength, speed, and height to torment his markers and send in ball after dangerous ball, but their poor finishing form in the final third would come back to bite them. Barcelona would prove that they, too, could play the counter-attacking game.
The most controversial man on the pitch in Berlin, Luis Suarez, was the one to find the breakthrough for Barcelona. He had been creating their best chances in the second half, working relentlessly to get on the ends of long balls from the defense or short passes in from the wings. While Iniesta was the conductor of all of the mouth-watering plays from the Spanish side, Suarez was the one making all the right runs into space and keeping Juventus’s defenders busy. In a rare lapse of time on the ball, Messi fancied himself a shot at goal. Buffon was able to stop the ball from entering the net but could not hold on to it and it bounced back into play. While Juventus’s entire back line had rushed to defend Messi, both Rakitic and Suarez had made unchallenged runs into the box and the Uruguayan was the first one there to fire the ball home. With sixty-seven minutes gone, Barcelona were back in the lead.
With the momentum once again in their favor, Barcelona were once again looking comfortable and confident. Juventus were not as frazzled as they had been in the first half and were able to make some inspired pushes forward, winning a free kick immediately after the restart. The ball was cleared and at the other end it fell to the feet of Alba who sent in a cross to Neymar. In real time, it looked like the young Brazilian had scored a fantastic header but the referee on the line flagged for a handball. Much to the dismay of Barcelona and the young Brazilian, the ref proved to be right and the ball had taken a significant touch off of Neymar’s hand as it headed for goal. Juventus were still in the game.
Barcelona proved their depth by taking off one world-class midfield maestro for another in the 76th minute when Iniesta departed and passed on the captain’s armband to Xavi Hernandez. Xavi came on to make his final appearance for the club before he retires with an impressive 25 trophies (including tonight’s) in the 24 years that he graced football. In the confusion of reorganizing after the substitution, Barcelona conceded a corner and Pogba really should have scored when ter Stegen came off his line to punch away the ball but completely misjudged it’s trajectory and missed it by a mile. Pogba rose to meet the cross but sent it sailing over the bar.
It wasn’t until the seasoned Spanish striker Fernando Llorente came in to replace the goal-scorer Morata that Juventus had a period of agonizingly close chances at goal. With five minutes left in regulation time, Juventus started to push their numbers forward and showed off their passing ability. Pogba put on a great show in the midfield, making important tackles and distributing the ball to his strikers. Llorente had a great touch to Tevez but he couldn’t get a solid shot off. Marchisio tested ter Stegen from distance but his effort was in vain. In Juventus’s final push three minutes into stoppage time, Llorente had a splendid turn in the box but his marker was quicker and stripped him of the ball. At the other end, Neymar and Messi carried the ball down the field where they secured a corner kick. As the clock ticked down and Barcelona made their final substitution, bringing Pedro on for Suarez, Juventus earned a harsh free kick when Dani Alves looked to have handled the ball protecting his face from a boot. The kick was headed out and fell to the feet of Neymar. The boy from Santos lead the charge with Pedro and Pique in tow. All he needed to beat Juventus’s two defenders was a touch to the substitute and a neat pass in return before he put the last touch of the game into the back of the net to win the Champions League final 1-3.