All eyes will point towards Rome this evening as, at 19:45BST the UEFA Champions League Final 2009 between FC Barcelona and Manchester United kicks off in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
A great many United and Barca fans have made the journey to the ancient city – with and without tickets for the match – and millions more at home and abroad will be watching the final live on big screens and smaller ones around the world.
This match, traditionally one of the most important of the footballing calendar features – perhaps uniquely for the modern era – two sides who arguably are the very best in Europe: Manchester United are current English Premier League champions; Barcelona have won the Spanish Primera Division. Both sides have won domestic cup competitions this term, too.
All eyes will be focussed on the biggest players from each side, who are widely tipped to be next year’s World and European Footballers of the Year (this match may impact the vote next time around, too!): those players being Argentinian Lionel Messi, or FC Barcelona and Portuguese star Christiano Ronaldo of Man Utd.
This is a battle which represents something of old versus new in terms of management too – it is Josep Guardiola’s (known fondly as ‘Pep’) first season in charge of the Barcelona team, at the age of just 38. Alex Ferguson, United’s manager, on the other hand, has been managing the Red Devils for 23 years, in which time he has won nearly every prize available to the club – on numerous occasions.
At the age of 67, Ferguson is looking to become the most successful English league club manager in the competition in equalling Liverpool’s Bob Paisley – who won the competition three times.
This battle of European giants pits top class footballer against top class footballer. It sees the Barcelona’s young pretender face off against United’s old prizefighter. Expect flowing football. Expect moments of sublime skill. Expect a great game.
At the end of 90 – or 120 – minutes of football, we will know for certain which team has earned the right to call themselves Champions of Europe.
For all of the questions raised by such a high profile match with so many individual and team battles, only one question remains truly important: will it be Manchester United or FC Barcelona who lift the 2009 UEFA Champions League trophy?