PHUKET: Wembley Stadium will play host to the best in European football this Saturday, when English champions Manchester United face off against Barcelona.
The UEFA Champions League Final will kick-off at 8:45pm Central European Time (1:45am on Sunday in Phuket), and is expected to serve up a scintillating display of football with both teams vying for their fourth title.
Pundits singled out United’s Wayne Rooney,25, and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi,23, as the key players to their team’s fortunes on the night.
Rooney has made eight appearances in this year’s competition and scored three goals, while Messi has made 12, and hit the back of the net 11 times.
The pairing of Rooney and his forward partner, the 22-year-old Mexican Javier Hernandez, could be the key to unlock Barcelona’s defense.
Psychological preparations and tactics made by United’s manager Alex Ferguson, and Barcelona’s Josep Guardiola, will also play a pivotal role in the final outcome.
While Ferguson has the edge in experience, Guardiola brings finesse to the table and is one of only six men to have won the Champions League as a player and manager. One shared skill the two bosses have is their ability to motivate their players to greatness.
United’s Dutch goalkeeper, Edwin Van der Sar, will be another key figure in Saturday’s match.
After six years at the club, Van der Sar is set to retire after the final. And there will no doubt be a few United fans hoping the Dutch keeper can pull off a man-of-the-match performance to go out on a high.
Both teams met in the 2009 UEFA Cup Final when the “Azulgrana” (blue and scarlet colors of Barcelona) defeated United 2-0 in Rome. The English Premiership holders will hope to avenge that loss and use some statistical good fortune to their advantage.
The 2011 final will see United and Barcelona as the sixth pair of teams to meet twice in the deciding game. In the past three occasions, the team that lost the first meeting won the second.
Liverpool beat AC Milan in 2005, but lost in 2007. Ajax beat Juventus in 1973, but lost in 1996. AC Milan beat Ajax in 1969, but lost in 1995.
Statistics are not lost on United’s 37-year-old Welsh wizard, Ryan Giggs, who has spent 21 years with the club and recently became the oldest player to score in the Champions League.
“It’s a special event because we are going for a fourth title and the first time we won it was at Wembley in 1968. Hopefully in the future people will talk about this team in the way we talk about the great ’68 team,” Giggs was reported as saying.
Other key players expected to stamp their mark on this epic bout, include Barcelona’s Carles Puyol, Daniel Alvez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
United will look to Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Nani for solid performances.
Whether you’re in Kata or Karon, Patong or Phuket Town, Bang Tao or Boat Lagoon, find a TV and make sure you watch these two giants of European football battle for the top prize in club competition.
Thank you to all Gazetteers for spotting the error, now corrected.
— Neil Quail
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