The hype and hoopla finally culminates tomorrow at Wembley when Barcelona and Manchester United face off for the 2011 UEFA Champions League title. Before we get there, let's look back at the road Barcelona took to reach tomorrow's final.
Barcelona qualified directly in to the group stages of the 2010/11 Champions League by virtue of their first place finish in La Liga during the 09/10 season. On August 26th, 2010 in Monaco they were drawn in to Group D alongside Copenhagen, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos, a group most felt Barca would have little trouble advancing out of. As expected, they rolled through their group, allowing only three goals in six matches (four wins, two draws) and finished first with 14 points.
Things got a bit more interesting when Barcelona were drawn against Arsenal for their first Knockout Stage tie. Much was made of the match and the potential for offensive fireworks and the tie did not dissapoint. In the opening leg at The Emirates, Barcelona dominated the match, taking a 1-0 lead in the first half thanks to David Villa. Despite leaving several good opportunities unfinished, Barca still seemed destined for a positive result. A late charge by the Gunners stunned the Catalan side, as Robin Van Persie and Andrey Arshavin both scored in a 12 minute span late to give Arsenal a 2-1 advantage going back to the Camp Nou.
In the second leg, Barcelona scored first in stoppage time of the first half thanks to Lionel Messi but an early second half own goal by Sergio Busquets put the match in Arsenal's hands. That's when it all went wrong for Arsene Wenger's men. Just three minutes after the goal, Robin Van Persie was shown his second yellow card was shooting on goal after the referees whistle. It was a dubious call and the Gunners never recovered as Xavi and Messi scored to give Barcelona the 4-3 aggregate victory.
Barcelona's quarterfinal tie against against Shakhtar Donetsk was considerably less dramatic thanks to a 5-1 first leg romp by Pep Guardiola's side. A rather drab 1-0 second leg victory gave Barca a 6-1 aggregate win and setup a semifinal clash against arch rivals Real Madrid.
Plenty has been said and written about the Champions League semifinal tie between Barca and Real Madrid. It was part of a wild two week stretch where the two clubs faced one another four times and as you would expect tensions ran high. In the first leg at the Bernabéu, Madrid were well on their way a positive result before Pepe was sent off on what was later proved to be a phantom tackle on Davi Alves. Down a man, Madrid couldn't stop Barcelona's attack and allowed two late goals, including a tremendous individual run and strike from Messi. The second leg was largely controlled by Barcelona and finished 1-1, giving Barca the 3-1 aggregate victory.
With the victory over Madrid complete, the table was set for Barcelona to face Manchester United with a chance to win their fourth European Cup.
For news, opinion, and feature articles leading up to the UEFA Champions League final, bookmark this StoryStream and check it often. We'll have new posts right here throughout the week, during the game, and after the game. For more on the entire world of footy, check out SB Nation Soccer. Manchester United fans should head over to The Busby Babe, while Barcelona fans should check out Barca Blaugranes.