<strong>BARCELONA (2)</strong> vs <strong>MANCHESTER UTD (0)</strong><br /><br />MANCHESTER UNITED’S dream of becoming the first team to retain the Champions League fell apart last night in Rome, unpicked by masterful Barcelona and their Argentine inspiration Lionel Messi.<br /><br />United swaggered into the Stadio Olimpico as slight favourites but shuffled out having been soundly beaten, Samuel Eto’o’s early strike sending them reeling before Messi’s second-half header put the result beyond doubt.<br /><br />A two-goal cushion was a just measure of Barcelona’s superiority on the night, having controlled all but the first 10 minutes with their meticulous passing game and come within a post’s width of another goal.<br /><br />The Catalan club’s performance also served as a fitting distillation of a season on which their attractive, free-scoring approach has won them fans across the continent; few would begrudge their coronation as United’s successors. Messi, meanwhile, looks likely to succeed Cristiano Ronaldo as World Player if the Year, having outshone the United man and proven his appetite for the biggest occasions with a 38th goal of a remarkable campaign.<br /><br />Victory saw Barcelona claim the European Cup for the third time in their history, and complete a league, cup and European treble unprecedented in Spanish football. It also marked a huge personal triumph for rookie manager Pep Guardiola – the youngest to lead a team to the trophy – who has transformed the fortunes of the side he once captained in the first season of his first senior role.<br /><br />For United, defeat ruined their tilt at history and means they end the season with three trophies: the Premier League, Carling Cup and World Club Cup. It may also prove to be Ronaldo’s swansong, with the Portugese strongly rumoured to be heading to Real Madrid this summer.<br /><br />The final was billed as a clash of the world’s two best players, and Ronaldo looked determined to prove his worth in an opening period in which United had dizzy Barca on the ropes. A thumping free-kick leapt out of Victor Valdes’ grasp, Ji-Sung Park narrowly missing the rebound, before Ronaldo fizzed a volley inches wide.<br /><br />But the match turned in the 10th minute when the outstanding Andres Iniesta surged through midfield and fed Eto’o. The Cameroon striker cut in from the right, beat Nemanja Vidic, and poked sharply past a stunned Edwin van der Sar. Suddenly Barca were rampant, Messi and Xavi going close before half-time. Little changed after the interval, despite United throwing on Carlos Tevez, Thierry Henry shooting at Van der Sar after bamboozling Rio Ferdinand, and Xavi’s free-kick hitting the post.<br /><br />With 25 minutes left United went for broke, sending on a fourth forward in Dimitar Berbatov. But moments later the net was bulging at the other end, Messi peeling away from Ferdinand to guide Xavi’s measured cross across goal and past Van der Sar.