Barcelona were crowned the 2011 UEFA Super Cup Champions on the evening of August 26th in Stade Louis II, Monaco, following an impressive, if rusty, 2-0 win over UEFA Europa League holders, FC Porto.
On a typically hot and humid Cote D’Azure day, Porto and Barcelona fans arrived early, determined to savour the experience of a UEFA Super Cup for what it is – an opportunity to celebrate a success which is not easily come by and may not return in a lifetime.
Good natured singing could be heard around the Stade Louis II ground for hours before kick-off, long before the team buses rolled in to simultaneous cheers and jeers from those fans dressed in white, blue and red.
For those who had never been to the Stade Louis II in Monaco, a most tasteful modern football stadium greeted visitors. Certainly few can argue with its glorious surrounds. The stadium’s designers had a graceful purpose in mind when one end of the building was left down to afford a fine view of the mountains and sea.
A couple of somewhat crude verses about Barça hate-figure Jose Mourinho – formerly UEFA Champions League winning manager of Porto, now managing the Spanish side’s arch-rivals, Real Madrid – lowered the tone a little during the pre-match buildup, and made for a stinging sing-song response from Porto fans which was not particularly neighbourly about Spain in general. Nevertheless, this was as serious as the boisterous crowd got on the sweltering afternoon. Fans of both teams allowed their teams to do the talking for them, out on the pitch.
Play began in a reasonably thick smog cause by Barcelona flares. Both sets of fans – 18,048 of them in all- were in good voice, though Barcelona were the more vociferous before kick-off, and it was easy to tell, from noise alone, which team was the Champions League holder.
Barcelona set early pace by retaining possession, and they took their first free kick quickly, to feet. Then, as is their way, they steadfastly refused to play killer, low percentage pass, if another, more makable option was apparent.
However, Porto got the first shooting opportunity, after 5 minutes, as referee Bjorn Kuipers adjudged there to have been a handball around 25 metres from goal, just to the right of centre. It was the left foot of Hulk who took the direct free-kick, but his shot never looked in and easily cleared the bar.
Another chance came soon after, as Porto worked the ball to Moutinho on the left angle of the area. The Porto midfielder won a corner as his effort had to be pushed over the byline by Valdes.
Barca were inviting this early spell of Porto pressure by playing uncharacteristic long balls, which – most unlike them – were frequently going astray.
A good intervention from Souza prevented Barca’s first assault on their box from turning into anything as the attempted square ball from Pedro Rodriguez to Lionel Messi was cut off, before Barcelona settled and began stringing their passes together once more. As the clock displayed 10 minutes played, it had been the Portuguese Europa Champs who had started the brighter of the two teams.
Barcelona soon worked the best chance of the opening quarter, however, as Pedro was one of a trio of players who sprang the off-side trap. He looked, in fact, to be a number of yards offside, only to hit his attempted chip half-heartedly over the bar in a move indicative of his belief that a whistle was to follow. There was no whistle, except to signal a goal-kick when Pedro should have smashed the net with nothing between him and the second-favourite Helton in between the Porto posts.
At the other end, Hulk, ever a threat for Porto, then narrowly missed with a fizzing low drive which beat Victor Valdes, and the post.
Another great goalscoring opportunity was spurned by Barcelona as Pedro picked up the ball between the corner of the box, and the touch-line, before playing a good square ball to Messi who tried to be a bit too cute with the outside of his left foot, and the ball was steered away for a corner by a defender.
Javier Mascherano, the make-shift centre half, then put in an ungainly, but nevertheless necessary challenge and gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position just outside box. Again, Hulk left foot, this time into wall and out for harmless throw-in. 15 minutes played.
Barcelona still looked a little nervy in possession, and gave away a cheap throw-in, leading to spell of Porto pressure for a couple of minutes.
Barca then regrouped and began the slow, methodical passing game once more, to the sound of loud whistles and jeers from the Porto end into which they were shooting.
Porto played out for needless throw in, giving possession back to Barcelona, which they worked right back to Valdes and through the right-hand side, showing that their game-plan for this Final was to be that with which fans of the game have become accustomed: keep ball.
Porto had a great chance on around 25 minutes, following good work down the right-hand side. A great cross was headed clear by Mascherano, who was to have arguably the best half of any in a Barcelona shirt, at his somewhat unfamiliar berth at the centre half.
Soon after, Iniesta brought down a long ball well, but then gave ball away yet again by retaining possession too long. Barcelona looked a little early-season-ish, and Porto certainly seemed the hungrier of the two sides. The clock read 27 minutes.
It looked like it might take a touch of class to inspire some life into Barcelona, who were not out of first or second gear.
Villa was next to show a lack of thought, as he went for a difficult flick, when taking the ball under control would have been the better option: a lack of composure which seemed inappropriate for a man in a Barcelona shirt, though Villa appeared tetchy throughout this half.
The match was in danger of becoming a little flat after an exciting first 10 or 15 minutes had been followed by very little of note. Cue Lionel Messi, who collected the ball midway through the Porto half, beat two men, and played a delightful looking ball which Helton, aided by a deflection off a sliding defender, read well to cut out in the Porto goal. Following this little injection of skill into the match, Barcelona began to take a real grip on the game, and stamp their authority on the affair, as the clock passed half an hour played.
A couple of minutes later, Xavi played a sublime 40 yard pass, which was then crossed to Messi, who touched down with his chest inside the area looking for a shot, only to hear a whistle for a fractional offside. Barcelona were beginning to hit their straps.
Another brief flat spell was ended by a couple of vigorous-looking tackles from Porto, the second of which ended with a Barca free kick, as the Portuguese team in blue and white indicated their frustration at the style with which Barca retain the ball. Ten minutes remained in the first half.
Another Barcelona chance ended with an offside flag, this time it was David Villa. The Spaniard over-reacted to the decision and received a talking-to from the referee.
Porto has their first opportunity for some time when Cristian Rodrigues found space on the left, but his attempted cross was sliced out for a goal kick on 37 minutes.
Moments later, and Barcelona had worked themselves a shot on goal, as Xavi had a shot tipped over the bar following a square ball. The acting Barca captain took one touch then hit a good shot from 25 yards which looked to be creeping just the right side of the crossbar prior to Helton’s intervention.
With the clock ticking down towards half time, Barca worked a number of half chances, but did not convert them, before the ball was only half cleared and a terrible backpass from Guarin played in Lionel Messi in the Porto area. The Argentine rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home coolly. He didn’t need to be asked twice. 40 minutes had gone; 1-0 Barcelona.
Just before half time, Porto cleared a Barcelona corner, long, to Mascherano on the half way line. The Bara defender retained possession with an inside pass, before the ball was cheaply given away. Mascherano made a clean last-ditch tackle – which was needed as Porto would otherwise have been two on one. The ball went out of play for throw-in, at which the half time whistle sounded.
Barcelona led 1-0 at half time, having retained a hoggish 70% of the possession.
In the second period, Porto won an early free kick, but gave possession away when Guarin hit an ungainly long range pass straight out of play, leading to a period of Barcelona possession.
Five minutes into the half, Kleber showed his pace for Porto to turn a bad ball into a good one as he raced past Abidal to pick the ball up on the edge of the Barca area. He was alone, though, and Barcelona soon had reinforcements to clear the ball from danger.
Iniesta was booked soon after for a show of petulance following another mistake: the Spaniard kicking the ball away after a miscontrol gave away a throw deep in Barca territory.
Two minutes later, Porto had a great chance to equalise. The opportunity fell to Cristian Rodriguez just outside the area, but his effort on goal was just deflected wide by the defender on the charge-down.
A good long range effort from Guarin of Porto meant Valdes was called into evasive action soon after, with the Barcelona goalkeeper forced to parry the ball out for a corner, though, as on six other occasions on the evening, Porto failed to get any end product from the set-piece, and the ball went harmlessly out for a goal kick.
David Villa was pulling to the left flank to get space – and it worked – as the ball was worked across to him on the angle of the area. The Spanish forward hit a reasonable low drive at goal, which was well saved by Helton. 56 minutes were on the clock.
Cristian Sapunaru at right back looked worried at the prospect of marking Villa, and instead left him free to roam time and again. Soon, Villa was picked out by Messi in metres of space at the edge of the area, but was just caught before he could do any significant damage.
An hour had been played, and Porto looked in danger of being over-run by a Barcelona side who were keeping them dancing by taking seven tenths of the possession for the second half in succession.
Porto then countered again, but found themselves just out of numbers in the final third, as legs began to tire as a result of the heat and the constant tracking Barca were forcing them through.
Porto won a corner despite what looked like a foul on Keita, though, from the centre, what looked to be a possible handball by a Barcelona player – which would have been a penalty – ended with a through ball to Pedro who was one-on-one but hit a heavy touch that goalkeeper, Helton, read extremely well to slide out and clear with his feet.
David Villa came off, replaced by Alexis Sanchez on 62 minutes.
Barcelona were working the more clear-cut chances, but Porto gave the impression that at least a goal was within their grasp, if they could just get one more man around the ball in the key attacking third.
Adriano, who had been something of a passenger for much of this match, came off for Sergio Busquets on 63 minutes.
Lionel Messi, racing through into the Porto half, was manhandled then chopped to the ground by Rolando, who was promptly booked. the free-kick was passed square; the threat had been neutralised with a professional foul.
Minutes later, Messi had the ball in the net after a great Iniesta through ball, but a slightly late flag said he was offside in a marginal decision.
Silvestre Varela came on for Cristian Rodriguez for Porto on 69 mins.
But Barca kept passing, and Sanchez, who had taken on Villa’s role of pulling wide left – unmarked by the lacklustre Sapunaru – was soon playing a one-two with Iniesta before the ball was played to the on-rushing Messi on the penalty spot. The sliding Argentine was mere inches from connecting for what looked like being a second goal.
Porto still had more than a puncher’s chance, though, and slight rush of blood to Victor Valdes’ head saw the Barcelona keeper completely miss the ball, which had been played hopefully long, and only a strong covering header from the alert Abidal saved the Barca stopper’s blushes, as the left-back put the ball out for a corner. 75 minutes had elapsed, and Porto had just 15 to get things back on an even keel: it looked like just such a mistake would be the most likely source of joy for the men in blue and white.
By contrast, at the other end, the impressive Helton in the Porto net looked assured with the ball at his feet soon after, selling a sweet dummy before picking out a man with a long range pass.
Barca were soon back in control, though, and yet another space found by Sanchez on the left-hand angle of the area ended with a curling shot which was just high and wide of the far corner.
Porto took off Kleber for Belluschi and Souza for Fernando on 77 minutes in an attempt to instil some life in their fatigued outfield.
Porto then had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down as Guarin burst into the box and collected from an Abidal mistake before hitting a heavy touch and falling to the ground. The player looked aggrieved, but, in truth, this was probably because he was so desperate to make up for the moment of madness in the first half than any real foul committed.
Fabregas was introduced onto the pitch for Pedro to the loudest roar of the night – save the earlier goal – from those at the Barcelona end. Ten minutes remained. There was to be a louder roar, minutes later.
Rolando was sent off for a second yellow card after bringing down Messi who had again got himself into a dangerous position after taking down a hopeful through ball. This tackle had to be made. Rolando had taken the hit for his team, and was applauded from the pitch by the knowledgeable Porto support.
Then a moment of magic to cap the evening. Iniesta won the ball back on half way, burst forwards, and played a ball to Messi, who took a touch before crossing the ball, left-footed, to the new boy, Cesc Fabregas. The former Arsenal captain proved worth every cent of the €40 million Barca paid for him: he chested the ball down on the penalty spot and powered a finish into the top left corner for a sublime goal.
Porto’s Fredy Guarin, who had already experienced a night to forget, then put in a sliding, studs up, challenge which caught Javier Mascherano painfully on the shin. The impressive Barcelona centre half looked in some pain following the full-blooded challenge, which earned Guarin the red card it deserved, ending the player’s evening with two minutes of normal time left on the clock.
Porto were down to 9 men as officials held aloft the board displaying three minutes of added time to be played.
Iniesta then had a chance to put some icing on the cake, after a ball was worked back to him on the edge of the area, but his shot was blocked as the clock ticked past 90 minutes.
Barcelona then worked the ball around to the sound of their fans singing “champions” – the final whistle blew soon after; and they were.
Barcelona, who were impressive despite never really looking particularly stretched, save an opening 15 minutes of ring-rusty sluggishness, had added yet another trophy to their enviable collection, by becoming the 2011 UEFA Super Cup Champions.
On the evidence of this night, and with one of the more favourable draws in the competition, there is little evidence to suggest that Barcelona won’t be back here again, next year, with another UEFA Champions League crown.
As FC Porto found on this balmy evening in Monaco, even at below their best, the World-Class Barca outfit are easily able to win matches, during which they hog possession, and never appear flustered, even on the biggest of stages.
As Barcelona’s truly outstanding squad climbed the steps to accept their winners medals, it was difficult to imagine that this group of players would not be repeating the action multiple times in the future.
Barca milked every bit of applause as red and blue ticker tape fell while Xavi, the captain of this fine ship, held aloft the UEFA Super Cup.
In the French-speaking principality of Monaco, a French word sprang to mind: déjà vu.
FC Barcelona v FC Porto – UEFA Super Cup 2011, Friday 26 August 2011 – Squads
Substitutions in brackets. YC = Yellow Card; RC = Red Card. Goals, and time in minutes scored indicated as “(g 00)”:
|FC Barcelona||FC Porto|
|1||Victor Valdes (GK)||1||Helton (GK)|
|2||Daniel Alves||6||Fredy Guarin (YS) (RC)|
|6||Xavi Hernandez (c)||8||Joao Moutinho|
|7||David Villa (Sanchez, 61)||10||Cristian Rodriguez (Varela, 69)|
|8||Andres Iniesta (YC)||11||Kleber (Belluschi, 77)|
|10||Lionel Messi (g 39)||12||Hulk|
|14||Javier Mascherano||13||Jorge Fucile|
|15||Seydou Keita||14||Rolando (YC) (RC)|
|17||Pedro Rodriguez (Fabregas, 80)||21||Cristian Sapunaru|
|21||Adriano (Busquets, 63)||23||Souza (Fernando, 77)|
|22||Eric Abidal||30||Nicolas Otamendi|
|Barcelona Substitutes||Porto Substitutes|
|36||Oier Olazabel (GK)||31||Rafael Bracali (GK)|
|4||Cesc Fabregas (g 88)||4||Maicon|
|9||Alexis Sanchez||7||Fernando Belluschi|
|11||Thiago Alcantera||17||Silvestre Varela|