A Viewer’s Guide to the UEFA Champions League Final

i-ede0645325cc0377eb25d1a68aa21b34-me3ssi0002.jpgA quick quiz related to the Barcelona-Manchester United final on live at 11:25 a.m. Wednesday on ESPN.

You know this game is big when:

A. ESPN actually recognizes soccer exists and puts Barcelona’s Lionel Messi on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine.

B. ESPN shows the final on well, ESPN, compared to ESPN2 or ESPN Classic, which is where it usually shows UEFA ECL contests.

C. Clerks in Trader Joe’s are eager to talk about the relative merits of the two teams.

D. I take the day off for a game.

E. All of the above

The answer is, of course, E.

Frankly, there’s more buzz surrounding this soccer game than I can ever remember between two club teams in this country.

And there’s unprecedented coverage, too:

*Seven hours of Fox Soccer Channel coverage (except the actual game) beginning at 9 a.m. Expect lots of Bobby McMahon.

*ESPN will air the game to 115 nations using 14 commentators in three languages with pregame segments splattered throughout its programming on ESPN and ESPN2.

The Galaxy will sponsor four local viewing parties:

*ESPN Zone at L.A. Live, 1011 S Figueroa St., Los Angeles.
*The Underground, 1334 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach.
*Lucky Baldwins, 17 S Raymond Ave., Pasadena.
*Ye Olde Kings Head pub, 116 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica.

Here’s a preview of the game:

By ROBERT MILLWARD
AP Soccer Writer
ROME — From Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi to Wayne Rooney vs. Thierry Henry, this Champions League final shapes up as a classic of European club soccer.

Already with the domestic league and cup titles to show for his first season as a coach,
Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola chases the ultimate prize in European club soccer on Wednesday when he bids to topple Manchester United and Alex Ferguson in a final fans all over the world have been waiting for.

“I think we have been able to show maturity for quite a few months, but tomorrow’s game is the most important,” Guardiola told reporters at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday.

“I want the players to feel well, to feel beautiful, to feel like they are playing in front of the whole world, to be daring and to feel that they are here because they deserve it and to show how good we are. It’s the best match to show it.”

After scoring 151 league and cup goals this season, Barcelona has the ability to take the
title from defending champion United, which also captured the Premier League title for the
third season in a row and 11th time in 17 years.

While Barcelona is chasing its third trophy of the season, United is after a fourth.

Ferguson’s team has also captured the FIFA Club World Cup and domestic League Cup.

United will make more history on Wednesday if South Korean star Park Ji-sung becomes the first Asian player to play in a Champions League final, after being surprisingly left out of the squad that beat Chelsea in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw in Moscow.

“I think there was a terrible disappointment last season when we didn’t include him in the
squad,” Ferguson said Tuesday. “I can assure you he will be involved in the squad tomorrow and, if he plays or comes on, he has an impact that other players like Messi and Ronaldo don’t have.

“He’s a different type of player. He has fantastic understanding of space and movement which is completely different from Messi and Cristiano. (They) work to have the ball all the time and make things happen, whereas Ji-sung doesn’t need the ball.”

United defender Rio Ferdinand says he will play after shaking off a calf muscle injury and
Guardiola said he was confident striker Thierry Henry and attacking midfielder Andres Iniesta would also be fit, setting up the final even neutral fans have been waiting for.

In Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Henry Barcelona has a strikeforce to match or even outplay
United’s. Ferguson is unlikely to field Ronaldo, Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez all at the same time, and there is speculation that two of them will be on the bench when the game kicks off.

Likewise, Ferguson is unlikely to field both of his 30-something midfielders Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs at the same time against the top quality duo of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

But Ferguson should have the edge when it comes to defense.

With Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in central defense, that lineup at the back can show why the team set a British record by going 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal in the league during mid-season.

Barcelona, by contrast, is counting the cost of having Brazilian right back Daniel Alves and
French left back Eric Abidal missing through suspension and Mexican center back Rafael Marquez out through injury.

The only thing missing from this final in Italy’s capital are any Italians.

Serie A has missed out again in a competition it used to dominate when AC Milan and Juventus were at their best.

Now Italy’s top teams can only watch, although there are security fears that local fans may
try to ambush the spectacle by targeting the visiting 50,000 spectators from England and
Spain, who have been advised to stay away from certain parts of the city on match day.

A look at Barcelona’s attack:

By PAUL LOGOTHETIS
AP Sports Writer
ROME — Barcelona’s formidable attack should be at its best with Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta likely to return for the Champions League final against Manchester United.

Henry and Iniesta were traveling with the team to Rome on Tuesday, a day after taking part in their first full training session since picking up separate leg injuries earlier this month.

The puzzle is coming together for the Spanish champions in time for Wednesday’s match between two of the world’s best clubs.

“They are two basic footballing pieces in our scheme,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. “We know they’re going to play, that they’ll be 100 percent, and to have them is a privilege because with them we’re better.”

Both players have been key to the offensive juggernaut that has scored 151 goals in collecting two trophies this season.

Iniesta’s injury-time goal against a staunch Chelsea side earned Barca its sixth trip to the
final; it has won the cup twice. The Spain midfielder, recovering from a thigh injury, abandoned his usual reserved nature when it came to deciphering the final.

“United are the defending champions, one of the best, but they don’t scare me. I have the same respect for them as they have for us,” Iniesta said. “It’s a chance to go down in history. I’d accept winning on penalties.”

Based on their training methods, that’s something Barcelona is not exactly ready for.

“We haven’t practiced them,” Xavi said. “I think to do that is ridiculous because you can’t
emulate the tension of a game in a training session.”

Henry has combined with Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o to net a league-record 71 goals by a trio. But Iniesta provides an integral midfield piece to rookie coach Josep Guardiola’s
philosophy: attacking, possession soccer borne out by midfielders Xavi and Iniesta.

The two players are straight out of the mold of Guardiola, a former midfielder who orchestrated Barcelona to 10 major titles from that role, including in the Champions League in 1992.

“This is special for us because we played the best football,” Xavi said after the club secured its 19th league title. “I have never seen (a team) play at this level, I have never played in a better team. We have individuals but, above all, we’ve won as a team. I’m proud.”

But the absence of several defenders has left Barcelona’s defense exposed against a team that knocked it out at the semifinal stage last year.

With fullbacks Daniel Alves and Eric Abidal suspended and center back Rafael Marquez injured, midfielder Yaya Toure will likely partner with former United player Gerard Pique in the middle as he did against Chelsea, then against Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Cup final. Captain Carles Puyol and 35-year-old Silvinho are likely to fill in on the wings.

With forwards Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Dimitarm Berbatov to contend with, goalkeeper Victor Valdes again may be called upon to make big saves in
pressure moments.

“What I must value is how Rooney, Tevez, (Paul) Scholes, etc., work,” Iniesta said. “Rooney played left back against us. To win a final against United you can’t make any
mistakes.”

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About Nick Green

South Bay-based Los Angeles News Group soccer columnist and blogger Nick Green writes at the 100 Percent Soccer blog at www.insidesocal.com/soccer and craft beer at the Beer Goggles blog at www.insidesocal.com/beer. Cheers!
  • Studs Up

    Wow, what a game.

    I am very, very happy for the gaLAxy. They can use some good news and a boost for a change. I hope the Rose Bowl will sell out for our game WITH Barca (not against).