2005/06: Ronaldinho delivers for BarçaWednesday 17 May 2006
FC Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal FC
(Eto'o 76, Belletti 81; Campbell 37)
Stade de France, Paris
Considering their size and fame, FC Barcelona been under-represented on the list of winners of the European Champion Clubs' Cup. Frank Rijkaard's team went a long way to redressing that balance at the Stade de France in Paris on 17 May 2006 when they defeated Arsenal FC 2-1 to claim European club football's most coveted prize for a second time. Barcelona's only previous victory in the competition had come in 1992 under Johan Cruyff and they travelled to Paris with another Dutchman looking to avenge final defeats in 1961, 1986 and 1994. In Rijkaard, three times a European Cup winner as a player, they had a coach who knew what it takes to win the competition, and in Ronaldinho, the star capable of delivering what Barça fans dreamed of most.
The thrilling attacking trident of Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi - the club's Argentine prodigy - and Samuel Eto'o was too much for Werder Bremen, Udinese Calcio and Panathinakos FC to handle as Rijkaard's side completed their Group C campaign with five wins and a draw from six games with 16 goals scored and just two conceded. Chelsea FC were first up in the knockout stages in a rematch of the 2004/05 last 16 tie between the sides. Chelsea had won then, but this time a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge put Barça in the driving seat and a Ronaldinho strike at the Camp Nou confirmed their place in the last eight. SL Benfica, conquerors of 2005 champions Liverpool FC, then AC Milan, finalists in 2005, were duly defeated as Barcelona swept into the final.
If Barcelona's trip to Paris seemed pre-ordained, no one had predicted Arsenal would join them there. The summer sale of Patrick Vieira had left the London club looking light in midfield and a succession of injuries meant Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was reliant on youth. In the event, the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Philippe Senderos, Emmanuel Eboué and Mathieu Flamini showed no fear of the big stage as Arsenal took Europe by storm. The London side matched Barça's points haul as they breezed through the group stage against AFC Ajax, AC Sparta Praha and FC Thun, then stepped up a gear to upset Real Madrid CF in the first knockout round, Thierry Henry scoring the only goal of the tie with a mazy dribble through the Merengues' defence. Juventus were overcome in the quarter-finals before a narrow victory against Villarreal CF, the first-leg win marking the last European match at the Gunners' historic Highbury ground, swept Arsenal to the final for the first time.
Jens Lehmann's last-minute penalty save from Juan Riquelme at El Madrigal made it ten consecutive clean sheets for Arsenal who would end the competition having gone a record 995 minutes unbeaten. Lehmann himself went a competition record 763 minutes without conceding a goal, a run that not even Barcelona could break. Not that the German was counting. His luck turned against the Spanish champions when he became the first player to be dismissed in a European Cup final after bringing down Eto'o only 18 minutes into the game. Arsenal still took the lead through Sol Campbell eight minutes before half-time and an improbable victory began to look increasingly likely as the second half wore on. In his last match for the club, though, veteran striker Henrik Larsson turned the course of the match after coming on on the hour mark, creating goals for first Eto'o then Juliano Belletti as the Catalan side fought back to win.
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