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Barca inherit 'dream team' mantle
Simon Baskett | May 18, 2006 17:06 IST
Barcelona have finally laid to rest the ghosts of the past with their victory over Arsenal, 14 years after the Catalans' only previous European Cup triumph.
Defeat in three of their four previous European Cup finals, including a 4-0 humiliation by AC Milan in 1994, had cast a lengthy shadow over a club that has so often claimed to be the continent's repository of good football.
The club's sole success had come from Johan Cruyff's "dream team", who won four consecutive league titles in the early 1990s and beat Sampdoria 1-0 in the 1992 final at Wembley with a piledriver from sweeper Ronald Koeman.
Every Barcelona team since then has been measured up to Cruyff's side and none had matched its achievements.
But Wednesday's 2-1 victory over Arsenal in the 50th anniversary final meant that Frank Rijkaard's men will now be worthy of the "dream team 2" label.
"Thanks to this trophy, we will now go down in the history of the club," said Barca midfielder Deco, the only player in the squad to have won the Cup before as part of the Porto side who beat Monaco in 2004.
Club captain Carles Puyol was similarly ecstatic. "This is a fantastic achievement," he said.
"Victory is a dream come true for us. People say that this is the start of an era, but it actually began three years ago and I believe there are many years of success still to come. Still we have to keep our feet on the ground."
Barca came perilously close to letting the opportunity slip in Paris as they struggled to exploit the 18th-minute dismissal of Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann for tripping Samuel Eto'o.
The German became the first player to be sent off in a European Cup final but it did not prevent Sol Campbell heading Arsenal in front before the break.
A resolute Arsenal defence then fought off waves of Barcelona attacks until the arrival of substitute Henrik Larsson.
The Swede, playing his last match for Barca before ending his career at hometown club Helsingborg, set Eto'o up for the equaliser 14 minutes from time. Five minutes later, he lined up the winner for fullback and fellow substitute Juliano Belletti.
Like Koeman before him, the defender, who had not scored since joining Barca from Villarreal two seasons ago, became the hero of the night.
"I'd never dreamed of scoring a goal in the final of the Champions League, it's incredible" said Belletti.
Cruyff paid tribute to the new "dream team", but warned them that the biggest challenge was yet to come.
"Barcelona deserved to win this Champions League as they've played well all season," said the Dutchman. "A Barca victory was just a question of time.... But now comes the hard part and that is staying at the top."
The Catalans' first step towards trying to maintain their hegemony at home and abroad could well be the signing of Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, the player who nearly deprived them of victory on Wednesday.
"I don't know if he will sign for us," said club captain Puyol. "There have been rumours, but without doubt he would be a great recruit for Barca. Henry is almost impossible to stop."
The Frenchman has said he will reveal his future before the start of next month's World Cup. If he does move to Barca, he will be joining a team that has now freed itself of the burden of the past.
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