IT WAS billed as the Perfect Final. And we weren’t let down.
Barcelona were simply brilliant as they shattered Sir Alex Ferguson’s dream of winning the European Cup for the third time.
Inspired by the brilliant Lionel Messi, the Catalans blew Fergie’s side away to conquer Europe for the fourth time.
And Bob Paisley will stand alone as the only British boss to land a hat-trick of victories as long as Pep Guardiola has players like Messi and Xavi at his disposal.
It was thought United were the only ones who might be able to stop the team rated by many as the greatest club side ever.
The Old Trafford men were also desperate to avenge their defeat by Guardiola’s side in the 2009 final.
But Barca swept them aside with a masterclass of thrilling football at the scene of their first European Cup triumph in 1992.
Pedro opened the scoring only for Wayne Rooney to level with a superb goal before half-time.
However, Barcelona moved up a gear after the break and long-range strikes from Messi – his 53rd of an incredible season – and David Villa eased them to victory.
The only surprise in United’s line up was that top scorer Dimitar Berbatov failed to find even a place on the bench.
Scotland star Darren Fletcher had to settle for a place amongst the subs as he missed out on a heartbreaking third final.
Barca skipper Carles Puyol was also a spectator on the bench after failing to convince boss Guardiola of his fitness.
That meant Javier Mascherano played at the back and United tested him in a ferocious start.
Fergie’s side tried to exploit the Argentinian’s lack of height and launched high balls in his direction. Rooney was jumping as if he was taking off from a trampoline and won flick-ons time after time.
But strike partner Javier Hernandez was too eager and ran offside four times in 20 minutes.
As expected, Barca came into the game after settling down and dominated possession.
Their players found little pockets of space and only some fine blocks from Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic prevented Villa and Pedro from testing Edwin van der Sar.
Barcelona finally broke the deadlock in 27 minutes with a superbly crafted goal.
Andres Iniesta shuttled a 10-yard pass to Xavi that Michael Carrick just failed to intercept.
The midfielder was 35 yards from goal and had option after option as his team-mates darted about to confuse the United players.
Messi’s run right across the box caused the biggest problem and Pedro peeled away from Vidic to pick up Xavi’s pass.
Van der Sar expected the winger to shoot across goal but he placed it low into the other corner for a brilliant finish.
United hit back superbly and grabbed a leveller seven minutes after Pedro’s strike.
Ferguson’s side pressed Barca in their own half and Eric Abidal’s throw-in was won by Ferdinand.
Rooney then gained possession and found Ryan Giggs inside the box. The Welshman waited for the perfect time to play the return pass and Rooney smacked the ball high past Victor Valdes.
We had a contest now and the second half couldn’t come quickly enough. But it was one-way traffic after the break and Messi took centre stage in 54 minutes.
The Argentinian dropped deep, around 30 yards out, to collect the ball and Ji-Sung Park wasn’t close enough to him.
He thought about a mazy run but the goal opened up as United’s defence dropped off.
By the time Patrice Evra did charge, Messi had powered in a left-foot drive that swerved away from van der Sar. It was a lovely goal but the keeper, making his last appearance before retirement, should have done better.
United tried to conjure up another fightback but just couldn’t get at the Spanish champs.
Antonio Valencia failed to run at Abidal often enough and Giggs didn’t have the pace to take on Dani Alves down the other wing.
Barca attacked in numbers though and ran off United’s midfielders with ease.
Messi was denied by the legs of van der Sar before Fabio cleared an effort off the line. Xavi then forced van der Sar into an excellent save.
Rooney looked menacing at the other end but Hernandez just never produced. It all seemed a bit too much for the young Mexican.
When Ferguson won this competition in 1999 and 2008 he was bold. His starting line up against Cheslea included Rooney, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
At the Nou Camp nine years earlier, he brought on Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and they both scored to beat Bayern Munich. Fergie tried again last night by taking off full-back Fabio for Nani.
But the winger blundered – and Carrick wasn’t too clever either – in 69 minutes when United gifted Barca possession in the box.
Sergio Busquets found Villa and the striker curled home from 18 yards for a deserved clincher.
Villa and his team-mates delivered on the night and United just couldn’t compete. In fact, Fergie’s side were fortunate to avoid an even heavier defeat.