Barcelona set the gold standard in Champions League win over Juventus
BERLIN -- Sometimes, it all comes together.
In the stadium where Jesse Owens broke records and Zinedine Zidane butted heads, the best club team in the world was crowned champion of Europe, defeating Juventus 3-1 in the Olympic Stadium. They did it their way. And, by this, I don't mean the "Barcelona way" because, over time, it has come to mean so many different things, stretching principles that may have begun with Johan Cruyff and evolved with Pep Guardiola, but now run the gamut.
Rather, Barcelona did it "their way" in the sense of the Luis Enrique Way -- following a blueprint based around an otherworldly front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez that at once exalts the individual but is equally predicated on the collective. But we'll get back to the that.
The result was an engrossing, entertaining 94 minutes of high-end football, which began under the yellow-red Berlin sunset and ended under squid ink skies, the light from the stadium drowning out even the stars, possibly because they were on the pitch.
Juventus had planned for Messi. The problem is that, sometimes, there is no game plan when the Big Bad Wolf is at the door and you live in a straw house. Or, in this case, even if you live in a reinforced concrete bunker and Messi, Neymar and Suarez come knocking.
Juventus manager Max Allegri's initial idea seemed a good one, for at least 180 seconds. Press high early and see if you can nick an early goal. Truth be told, Juventus had their spots, as Javier Mascherano was rattled and Carlos Tevez fired high.
But it was the fourth minute when Barcelona took the lead, following a move that, appropriately, involved all 10 outfield players. The highlight? It's a toss-up between Messi's laser-guided crossfield pass to Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta's shimmy that turned Arturo Vidal into Job's wife, allowing him to ghost into the box and lay it off for Ivan Rakitic, who finished the sequence.
That goal epitomized the whole collective/individual thing that Barcelona do as well as anyone. It's not just selflessness, it's purposeful selflessness. It's teamwork in which the parts aren't interchangeable because some guys can do things other cannot, but when it works it's much greater than the sum of its parts and suddenly there is plenty of canvas for the genius on which to paint.
What followed was a battering that rattled Juventus, none more so than Vidal, who was exceptionally lucky to stay on the pitch. Fourteen minutes in, Juventus keeper Gigi Buffon showed just why some think he can stop not just footballs, but Father Time as well. That reflex save on Dani Alves -- 37-year-old body diving right, mighty left hand rising left to keep out the finish -- was special.
Juve weathered the onslaught and tried what it could to press. Claudio Marchisio and Paul Pogba, twin driving forces all night, switched sides, but it was going to take more than that to spook Iniesta. There were a few wobbles at the back for Barca -- a thundering Pogba counter, Alvaro Morata nicking the ball deep from Alba -- but this is the price they pay for the way they play.
As if to re-establish order, it was Barcelona who ended the half on a high. Suarez's diagonal finish ending just wide and a video game-style run from Messi, in which he beat three opponents before clattering into Leonardo Bonucci.
You try to imagine what might have been said at half-time in either dressing room. Allegri perhaps telling his players that they survived the worst of it and they were still in it. Luis Enrique reminding his men that it was time to kill the game.
And kill the game Barcelona very nearly did, proving that Allegri was wrong: it was going to get worse before it got better. Buffon produced another high-end near post save from Suarez and then Messi had another virtuoso moment. He collected the ball in his usual wide area, then sent off on an arcing rainbow of a run, exchanging the ball first with Neymar, then with Suarez. Messi's finish was wide of the mark, but the sequence was about as breathtaking as his run to end the first half or, indeed, the opening goal.
Sometimes though, there is nothing better than a dodged bullet to restore your spirits. Some outstanding work from Marchisio teed up Tevez. Barcelona keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen could only deflect his thunderous strike and Morata was there to tuck it away.
Juventus must have known that, in a game like this, it was going to be about incidents going your way. This was one. Would there be others?
Tevez capped another good counter by putting it over the crossbar. A few minutes later, Pogba pounded the turf in anger. He and Dani Alves had tied themselves up in a human pretzel. Replays suggested there was mutual grabbing but, as they say, you've seen them given.
Messi raced back the other way on the counter and, this time, Buffon ran out of miracles. He did stop the Argentine's shot, but only as far as Suarez, who was quicker to react than Patrice Evra. The score was 2-1 and order was restored to the Barca world.
The Barca fans thought it was 3-1 when Neymar appeared to head the ball past Buffon a few minutes later. Replays showed the ball did hit his head but, immediately thereafter, his hand. It was one of those calls by the official behind the goal and one that, inevitably, reopened the voluntary/involuntary handball can of worms on social media. (Fortunately, given that it ended up being entirely irrelevant to the outcome, we can have this debate another time.)
Allegri went all in, sending on Fernando Llorente and Kingsley Coman in what he hoped would be a desperate siege. But for every half chance, Barca found a real one.
For Juventus, this match ought to be a reminder that big teams think and act like big teams, even when faced with bigger and better ones. To be fair, that's what they've done virtually all season long. They knew it was always going to be a question of either individual episodes or Barca underperforming. Barca did not disappoint. Too few of the individual episodes broke white-and-black.
BARCELONA WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
- Marcotti: Barcelona set gold standard in Berlin
- Hunter: Cruyff's influence endures for Barca
- Delaney: Barcelona claim final glory in Berlin
- Horncastle: Juve's future bright despite loss
- Luis Enrique future unsure | Social media reaction
- Ratings: Barca | Juve Gallery: Best pictures
- Burley: Barca defeat resilient Juve in Berlin
- Highlights (U.S. only): Juventus 1-3 Barcelona
- Play of the game: Suarez winner | Player: Rakitic
The night ended with exhilaration at one of the better finals in recent memory, but also with a twinge of sadness at the stars we likely won't see again at this level: Xavi definitely, possibly Dani Alves and Andrea Pirlo. The former two can console themselves with their umpteenth European Cup (and for the Brazilian, that contract offer is still on the table).
Pirlo's eyes watered at the end as he embraced Pogba in what ought to be a natural sporting progression, provided market forces don't get in the way and Pogba leaves the club. Both players were gutted. But Pogba can write his own future, just as Pirlo wrote his own past. In this very stadium, in fact, nine years ago.
This is how -- unless you have a rooting interest -- you want your finals to be: exciting, open, both teams doing themselves proud, but also with a clear-cut finish and the most deserving team winning.
In Berlin, it was Barca, just as it has been over the course of the campaign. Or, for that matter, most of the past 11 years, a time frame that yielded seven Liga crowns, four Champions League titles and two Trebles. It may seem hard to believe today, but for much of the past half-century, Barca were the great underachievers: eight league titles and one European Cup between 1960 and 2004 tell their own story.
Now they are the gold standard. Their fifth European crown puts them level with Bayern Munich and Liverpool, behind only Milan and Real Madrid.
More to come? Suarez is 28, Messi 27 and Neymar 23. Yeah, you'd think so. And that's a treat.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.