2005/06, Champions League Final, Stade De France
Arsenal came into this match hoping to secure their first ever triumph in the premier footballing competition in Europe, while Barcelona looked to win it for the second time only, with their only prior win coming in 1992. The match was set to be a classic, with both teams boasting of some great players. Barcelona had the inimitable Ronaldinho at the peak of his playing powers along with Samuel Eto’o, Deco and Giuly among others while Arsenal came into the match with the Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and a young Cesc Fabregas having a breakthrough year.
The match started off and hit an early talking point as eighteen minutes in Arsenal ‘keeper Jens Lehmann received marching orders for bringing down Eto’o just outside the box, even though Ludovic Giuly scored as the ball broke to him. But the referee decided to rule out the goal and send the German off. In the process, Jens Lehmann made a record of having gone an entire Champions League campaign without conceding a single goal. This was a commendable effort as he had faced Real Madrid and Juventus over two legs each and warded off Villareal’s Riquelme from the penalty spot in the semi final.
But the game went on with Arsenal at the disadvantage and Manuel Almunia on for Robert Pires. Sol Campbell shocked onlookers as he gave Arsenal the lead in the first half with a fine header from a Thierry Henry free kick. As Barcelona looked for a way back, the Gunners showed resoluteness and almost extended their advantage twice but Victor Valdes denied Henry and Ljungberg. An hour into the match, Henrik Larsson came in for Barcelona and was soon joined by Belletti as well and both these substitutions proved to be vital for Barcelona. With fifteen minutes remaining on the clock, Larsson received the ball from fellow substitute Iniesta and passed it on to Samue Eto’o who calmly slotted the ball home past Almunia. Within four minutes, Barcelona completed their comeback with Larsson again playing creator, as he set up Juliano Belletti for the winner. What could have been a glorious end of an era for an Arsenal side consisting of the likes of Henry, Pires, Ljungberg and Bergkamp, turned out to be the beginning of an era for Barcelona, with Puyol and Iniesta winning their first Champions League medals and Xavi watching from the bench. Lionel Messi was deemed unfit for the clash, but the little Argentine forward had already started attracting attention on the global stage.