Make No Mistake, Barca Deserved the Cup
It is February 22 and Barcelona are 1-0 down to a 10-man Chelsea side midway through the second half.. Henrik Larsson comes on and contributes handsomely to the overturning of that deficit and an ultimate 2-1 victory for the Catalans. Sound familiar?
What a swansong for the man devotedly dubbed 'King of Kings' by his erstwhile disciples at Celtic. He is now a certifiable hero in the Catalunyan capital as well as in the East End of Glasgow. Of the many things which Thierry Henry said after the game last night, the most measured and accurate was his verdict on the Swede's contribution: "You talk about Ronaoldinho, I didn't see him...Henrik Larsson was the difference, but I didn't see Ronaldinho and I didn't see Eto'o at any point." True enough in the case of the feted Brazilian (in fairness to Eto'o, he did make the not insignificant contribution of scoring a goal). Ronaldinho's impact in such a monumental game was minimal, and even the famous goofy smile was missing.
Filtered through the English media, the performance of referee Terje Hauge and his Norwegian compatriots on the line (God only knows what the chap with the Barca jersey would have been like) was the major story of this final. The sending off of Lehmann was undoubtedly the pivotal moment in the match, and one which, with the smallest modicum of common sense, could have played out with a more satisfying outcome.
Arsenal were scuppered by the sending off, but one must remember that the referee actually did not "get it wrong". Hauge's decision was correct; the operation of the advantage principal is entirely at his discretion and carries no obligation. Too little, it seems, has been made of the fact that the alternative to the decision made was to grant Barcelona a 1-0 lead. Indeed, Hauge would also have been within his rights to allow the advantage and Giuly to score, and then pull the play back to red-card Lehmann for the original foul. No doubt, for the neutral the loss of numerical equivalance ended the prospect of the classic final we all hoped for, but to ascribe the actual outcome of the game to that moment is excessive.
More pertinent to question would be fact that Eto'o was just offside when Larsson fed him for the equaliser. It was a very tight call, and the officials may have mistaken Larsson's slight touch for a dummy, but it was wrong nonetheless; and only one of several poor decisions.
It is no consolation to Arsenal, but the long and the short of it is that the Champions League of 2006 has a winner worthy of the trophy. Who can really argue with the contention that Barca were Europe's best team this season? Yesterday we stated here that, if the situation arose that a lock needed to be picked, then undoubtedly Barcelona had the wherewithal. When your World's Greatest Footballer is having a stinker and you can bring a couple of guys off the bench to do it, well, that's quite a team you have there.