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bana2166
05-18-06, 10:48 AM
Soccer: Barcelona Wins Champions League

Even with a manpower advantage for nearly the entire game, Barcelona struggled to become Europe's soccer champion for the first time in 14 years.

The Spanish league champs rallied in the second half to beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Champions League final Wednesday. Samuel Eto'o and second-half substitute Juliano Belletti scored in the final 15 minutes against backup goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.

Barcelona knew it didn't play anywhere near its best in beating the Gunners, who were down to 10 men from the 18th minute after the ejection of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. The German was shown a red card for tripping Eto'o as he headed toward the goal with Arsenal's defense giving chase.

Barcelona thought it had taken the lead when Ronaldinho fed Eto'o, Lehmann fouled the forward and the ball rolled to Ludovic Giuly, who shot it into an empty net. But Norwegian referee Terje Hauge already had blown his whistle for a foul. Almunia came in to play goal, replacing midfielder Robert Pires.

"Arsenal started really well and I think the sending off changed the game dramatically, there's no doubt about that," Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard said. "It was a pity for the game itself, but you have to live with it. Even with 10 men, they were dangerous."

So dangerous that Arsenal, seeking its first Champions League title, went ahead in the 37th minute when Sol Campbell headed in Thierry Henry's free kick.

"When they went 1-0 ahead, this gave them a lot of mental strength and team spirit," Rijkaard said. "But when we scored our equalizing goal, mentally this changed them _ something broke in them."

Arsenal had gone a Champions League-record 10 consecutive games without allowing a goal. Eto'o ended the streak in the 76th minute, taking a through ball from Henrik Larsson and beating Almunia to the short side.

Belletti put his shot between Almunia's legs for the winner in the 81st minute, taking a pass from Larsson.

"Scoring a goal in the Champions League is very difficult for a fullback," Belletti said. "I thought this afternoon that perhaps I would have played, but I knew it was difficult. The Champions League is for all the people who don't appear in the press. It's for everyone."

While Barcelona celebrated its first European cup triumph since 1992, it left a bad taste for Henry and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

"I don't know if the ref had a Barcelona shirt on or something," Henry said. "If they don't want us to win it, just say it right from the start. I don't think he cost us the final, because we were 1-nil up. I always expect the ref to do his job. I don't think he did.

"No disrespect to Barcelona, I feel we played better than them when it was 11 against 11. We can be proud, we can be more than proud, but I'm sorry, some of the refereeing today was horrendous."

He wasn't the only Frenchman blaming the referee.

"I'm very angry," said Wenger, who started his career with French club Monaco and appeared on course to becoming the first French coach to win the European club title. "I'm frustrated at losing the match, but I'm angry at conceding an offside goal. It's difficult to accept losing the game on a poor decision.

"That (first) goal was offside and it was proven on television. At this level, we should not accept this and we have to do something about it."

While both teams already had qualified for next year's Champions League _ Arsenal must go through a qualifying stage _ the London club might have seen Henry play his final game in its jersey.

Henry is still thinking about whether to stay with the club he has served for seven years; he has been strongly linked with Barcelona.

"With the sledgehammer blow that we just took, it's difficult to think about all that," he said, adding the decision will come "before the World Cup, very soon."

2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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KINGS OF EUROPE: Barcelona rallies to win Euro club crown, 2-1
May 17, 2006

Despite playing with a man advantage for most of the Champions League final, it seemingly took Barcelona forever to solve Arsenal's vaunted defense Wednesday night.

But when the Barcas did, they made no mistake about it, striking twice within five minutes to lift the Spanish champions to a 2-1 victory over Arsenal in Saint-Denis, France.

Cameroon international striker Samuel Eto'o connected in the 76th minute and second-half sub Juliano Belletti found the back of the net five minutes later to boost Barcelona to only its second European championship in this competition. The Barcas captured the title in 1992.

Arsenal played a man down from the 18th minute when goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, who will start for Germany in the World Cup, was red carded for taking down Eto'o just outside the penalty area.

Sol Campbell scored Arsenal's lone goal, heading in a Thierry Henry free kick in the 37th minute.

Barcelona will visit Giants Stadium to play the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 12.