Some drama before the drama. Ash from the aptly titled Grimsvotn volcano
in Iceland forced Barcelona to travel to the UK on Tuesday. With the threat of disrupted flights, Barcelona are in London two days early. They will hope their fans are erupting with joy on Saturday evening.
Perhaps the most recognisable trophy in the world game
alongside the World Cup. The Coup des Clubs Champions Europeens or 'Big
Ears' as it is better known has been awarded to the winners of the European Cup or
Champions League since 1967. It was designed by a Swiss jeweller from Berne.
The Scottish club were the first British winners of the
European Cup and the first non-Latin team to pick up the old pot in 1967 when
they defeated Internazionale 2-1 in Lisbon. Celtic won the trophy with 11 Scots.
Barca and Celtic are the only clubs to have won a quadruple of trophies in a single season that
includes the European Cup.
As British entertainer Bruce Forsyth likes to say: "I am
not doddery, doddery I am not". Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
turns 70 in December, but is showing no signs of slowing down in his pursuit of
excellence. Fergie has two Champions Leagues in an overall haul of 47 trophies.
He is the most successful manager in the history of the British game.
Both teams have been forced to extra-time once in a
Champions League final. Ronald Koeman's thumping effort from distance handed
Barcelona a 1-0 win over Sampdoria in the 1992 final at the old Wembley, while
United downed Chelsea 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in a saturated Moscow
The 1960 European Cup final is regarded as the greatest in
the history of the tournament. Ferenc Puskas scored four times and Alfredo di
Stefano netted three goals as Real Madrid thumped Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3
before a record attendance of 135,000 at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Ryan Giggs has been attracting attention for his ability off the
park before this final. United must hope allegations of extra-marital affairs,
super injunctions or the value of Twitter to the justice system will not distract the Welshman this weekend. At the age of 37, he is set to be deployed in central midfield as he joins his
manager in pursuing a third Champions League gong.
A festival celebrating all that is good about the Champions
League is being held for a week in London's Hyde Park ahead of the final. The
Champions League trophy was lifted 417 times in one hour by eager fans - a new
world record for a trophy lift. Whatever that means.
Andres Iniesta could be the first man to complete a unique
double in football. The Barcelona midfielder scored the winning goal in the
World Cup final when Spain downed the Netherlands last July. He has the chance to do likewise at Wembley on Saturday. What a double that would be.
King Juan Carlos of Spain will perhaps have mixed emotions
about Barcelona reaching the final. He is a Real Madrid fan, but was forced to
watch Barca end his side's bid for a 10th European Cup in a bad-tempered semi-final.
FC Barcelona was founded by Joan Gamper or Hans Kamper - a
businessman from Switzerland - in 1899. He also founded FC Basel in Switzerland.
Manchester United was founded in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR Football Club, but became
known as Manchester United in 1902.
Both clubs are chasing their fourth European Cups, but they
are not the most successful clubs from their respective countries in lifting
the trophy. Real Madrid have won it nine times, while Liverpool are ahead of
United with five wins.
As Al Pacino says in the movie Scarface: "In this country, you gotta make the money. Then when you get the money, you get the power... then you get the women." Wembley will be teeming with millionaire players and their WAGS. There are too many to go through, but the one that sticks out is pop star Shakira, who is dating Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.
It is called the Camp Nou in Spain, but whatever name you prefer, Barcelona's home is
instantly recognisable across the globe. Camp Nou translates to 'new field' and is one of the most celebrated stadiums in world football. With a capacity of
99,354, it is the largest of its kind in Europe.
Nicknamed the Theatre of Dreams by Bobby Charlton, United's
Old Trafford home is the second-largest stadium in the United Kingdom. With a
capacity of 75,957, it is behind only Wembley in terms of size.
'The Poznan' seems to be latest craze sweeping the football world as much as the Mexican Wave hit home a couple of
decades ago. Lech Poznan captured the imagination of football fans with their
unique celebration during a Europa League loss to Manchester City. The fans
turn their back to the play, link arms and bounce around. Celtic have their own effort
known as 'The Huddle', but a Poznan by any other name is still a Poznan.
Wembley will be quite a sight if fans get busy doing 'The Poznan' on Saturday.
Quo - Status Quo
The European Cup changed to the Champions League in 1992,
but nothing much has altered in the past 19 years. The usual suspects tend to
dominate the scene. Italy and Spain have produced 12 winners of the tournament
with England one win further back on 11 successes. England will draw level with
Italy and Spain if United lift the trophy on Saturday.
Rotterdam and Rome
Barcelona and Manchester United have twice contested European finals. Sir
Alex Ferguson picked up his first European trophy as United manager in 1991
with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the European Cup Winners' Cup, while Barcelona avenged that defeat with a 2-0
win over the English side in the Champions League two years ago.
The winner will receive £26.7 million with the runner-up trousering £21.7m.
An estimated worldwide television audience of 150 million is expected to watch the match - the most watched annual sports event in the world.
The cost to watch this final is a small fortune to the man
in the street. UEFA president Michel Platini has been forced to apologise for
the price of tickets for the final costing between £80 and £338. The cheapest
ticket on general sale for the final was £150, but prices have escalated in the
hands of outside agencies with tickets being flogged on the internet for more
Whatever happens on Saturday night, it is unlikely to match
the drama of the first time Ferguson won the European Cup as United manager
with a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in 1999. With three minutes of time added on and
Bayern leading 1-0 at the Nou Camp, United scored twice to complete a remarkable win courtesy
of goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It was an English coach who almost delivered Barca's first European Cup. Terry Venables was the club's manager in the 1986 final against Steaua Bucharest. Barca even had a Scottish forward in Steve Archibald, but despite having the support of 70,000 or so home fans in Seville, Barcelona could not score in 120 minutes of play. Steaua won 2-0 on penalties.
Barcelona won their first European Cup at the old Wembley,
but the new stadium was built for nights like this with a capacity of 90,000. The stadium has 2,618 toilets - more than any other venue in the word.
The midfielder is only 31, but has already made the most
appearances of any player representing Barcelona with 576 and counting. He has
won 101 caps for Spain. He was won six Spanish titles, two Champions Leagues,
the World Cup and the European Championship - making him one of the most
decorated players in the sport's history.
Youngest (and oldest)
Patrick Kluivert was the youngest player to score in a
Champions League final at the age of 18. His goal gave Ajax a 1-0 win over
Juventus in 1995. For the record, Milan's Paolo Maldini, 36, was the oldest scorer in a
Champions League final in a 3-3 draw with Liverpool in 2005.
Was there a better goal to win a Champions League final than
Zinedine Zidane's strike in a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen at Glasgow's Hampden Park in 2002? The ball seemed to come out of a greyish Scottish sky with
snow on it, but Zidane kept his head as still as Tiger Woods holing a putt to win a Major as he ravaged the net with a thumping volley. It helped Real win the last of their nine