Barca stun Arsenal to lift the European Cup
Striker Eto'o and defender Belletti gave Barca 2-1 win to bag the European Cup for the second time in their history.india Updated: May 19, 2006 13:21 IST
Barcelona scored twice late on to stun 10-man Arsenal 2-1 and win an absorbing 50th anniversary European Cup final at a rain-drenched Stade de France on Wednesday.
Striker Samuel Eto'o and substitute defender Juliano Belletti cancelled out a first-half header from Arsenal defender Sol Campbell and gave Barcelona the European Cup for only the second time in their history.
It was a fitting outcome for Frank Rijkaard's side that battered the London club throughout the second half after Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann became the first man to be sent off in a European Cup final, but the 63rd Arsenal dismissal since Arsene Wenger became manager almost 10 years ago.
Norwegian referee Terje Hauge showed Lehmann a straight red card after he caught Eto'o on the fringe of the area after the Barca striker had been put through by Ronaldinho in the 18th minute.
That moment effectively changed the nature of the match, but initially, apart from going a man down, it did not unduly disturb the London side that had started brightly.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger brought on Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and sacrificed disconsolate French midfielder Robert Pires, whose last appearance for Arsenal was ending in a way he could never have imagined.
But it could have been worse for Arsenal. Ludovic Giuly had put the ball in the net after Lehmann's challenge on Eto'o, but brought play back instead to award Barca a free kick.
Ronaldinho, whose confrontation with Thierry Henry never really materialised, took a weak free kick, which largely typified a quiet night for the World Player of the Year.
Later Lehmann told German TV, "Obviously, it was a bit tragic that I was out after 20 minutes. I got there a tick too late. It wasn't good."
"But the team did an excellent job. With 10 men we had a chance. Unfortunately, their first goal was an offside goal. It was bitter for us, after fighting so hard," he added.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, the Londoners refused to fold and were rewarded when Campbell escaped his marker Oleguer to thump an angled header inside the far post eight minutes before the break for his first Champions League goal.
In the opening exchanges Thierry Henry had wasted a good scoring chance when he shot against goalkeeper Victor Valdes's legs after three minutes.
However Campbell's goal, and a superb save by Almunia when he palmed an Eto'o shot on to the post moments before the break, seemed to confirm the suspicion that the French-influenced Arsenal side was going to win the European Cup for the first time in Paris.
Alexander Hleb and Henry both wasted excellent scoring chances, which would almost certainly have killed Barca off after the break, and 14 minutes from time Arsenal's grip on the game was prised wide open.
After repelling some intense pressure they crumbled when Eto'o raced on to a neat flick from substitute Henrik Larsson, controlled the ball with his left foot, transferred it to his right and struck the ball between Almunia and his near post.
It was the first goal Arsenal had conceded in the play but worse was to follow when they conceded a second six minutes later.
Brazilian substitute Belletti grabbed the winner with his first ever goal for Barca when he thundered a shot under Almunia after Larsson's astute pass.
"I never dreamed I would score a goal in a final. Usually it's difficult for a full back to score but really this was a team victory," said Belletti.
It was a brilliantly executed goal and sent Arsenal crashing to a defeat that was rooted in Lehmann's rash challenge.
Arsenal eventually tired against the non-stop Barca onslaught, which ultimately brought a deserved victory and meant coach Frank Rijkaard became only the fifth man in the history of the competition to win the European Cup as both player and coach.
First Published: May 18, 2006 10:13 IST