This game was never going to match the passion and intensity of a Champions League final. But that’s never what it was about.
Manchester United and Barcelona played in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a soccer game in the D.C. metropolitan area. They were given a stage to present the highest level of the sport to an audience that is rarely provided it.
And on Saturday night at FedEx Field, the teams took to that arena and – at least in doses – provided a glimpse of what the world’s best teams look like when they are playing the game. Barcelona’s beautiful possession and Manchester United’s deadly counter attacking style during the English club’s 2-1 victory.
The examples were there in Nani’s electric runs down the right sidelines. His stepovers and cheeky passes. His quick bursts past a defender and curling crosses through Barcelona’s box.
They were there in those simple one-touch combinations in Barcelona’s midfield that turned two yards of space for one player into 10 yards for another. And in that nifty heel from Iniesta, his run to get the ball back and then, so nonchalantly, a lifted chip over defenders and into the path of a teammate in the box.
And of course there were the goals.
Nani’s perfectly timed run up the middle and across the face of a Barcelona back line that wasn’t quite prepared for a two-man counter that appeared out of nowhere. His calm finish after Danny Welbeck fed him through.
Thiago’s wicked curling shot that started off looking like a blistered laser, but instead spun suddenly to the right and into the upper corner as if pulled that way by a magnet.
Michael Owen’s chip over the shoulder of Victor Valdes to seal the win, an example of a true finisher’s cool in front of net.
“I don’t think of this as a rematch,” David Villa said after the game. “This was simply a friendly match.”
That’s all it had to be.