Barcelona’s heroic 4-0 dismantling of AC Milan will go down in their annals and indeed, the annals of the great matches of European football, as a moment when a great team reaffirmed why it deserves its place at the head of football’s pantheon. The sumptuous football has rightly been acclaimed before, and will be acclaimed again, but what was so uplifting about this particular victory was the way it stemmed from the other, human qualities of a magnificent set of individuals. From the outset, they made a mockery of their many admirers’ pessimism by tearing into Milan with a hunger and passion that cast them and their magical play in a glowing halo in those first thirty minutes. Lionel Messi’s ethereal chip-shot within the first five minutes of the match, recalling a similar goal by Ronaldinho for Barca against Chelsea in the same tournament, was summoned up by his rare genius yet also by his magnificent determination to seize his moment and not see his glittering team cast into darkness; Xavi ran through injury and pain for ninety minutes because he possesses that same innate drive that lifts men to greatness and nothing typified his spirit more than the sliding tackle, followed by the kick of the ball he made from his prone position on the floor in the second half – when the pressure was at its height – to disarm Milan’s attack.
Indeed it was the hovering threat of an away goal that severely tested the nerves of Barcelona and their 90,000 magnificent fans – resplendently heralding their intentions to back up a great team with great support through their banner “Som Un Equipo” (“we are a team) – but which also cast them in the sort of heroic light we rarely get to appreciate. Dominating teams so easily, almost in a somnambulant fashion, has led some neutrals to the erroneous conclusion that their play is either monotonous or less worthy of praise. Last night Barcelona walked a tightrope from first minute to the last, and the fact that they chose to answer the daunting challenge of overturning a 0-2 lead with a style of play as beautiful as it was vulnerable, and perhaps even ill-suited to the task, brilliantly illuminated the heroic aspect of their endeavour. It is under extreme stress that the true face of a man’s character is revealed, and Barcelona demonstrated a rousing faith in their beautifully fragile style of play at a time when it was questioned most, in the face of an increasingly nerve-wracked ninety minutes, that will burnish their legend for decades to come.
All the wishes that a neutral harbours in following one of the great sports teams in history, all the inspiration they might wish to gain from watching them summon up their boundless strength and character to produce their magical best to overturn a formidable lead in historic and unreal fashion – in short, many of the dreams one hopes to find fulfilled by watching sport and then to carry the spirit of into life were realised by this fantastic Barcelona team on Tuesday’s magical night at the Camp Nou. Even if they do not go on to win the tournament, they have rendered football and the watching world another invaluable service whilst creating a night that will live long in the memories of all lucky enough to see it.