Some people paid three, four thousand dollars to get to Johanessburg in July and to witness the World Cup pinnacle between Spain and Holland, a great final on paper that failed to meet expectations in terms of spectacle. By comparison, entrance to the Nou Camp must seem like winning a small lottery. Whatever the cost of a ticket to see Barcelona play, it is certainly worth more than the price of admission. There is no club team in the world that can emulate what Barca does on the field. Only Spain, of course. In Barca’s mid-week encounter with Greek champion Panathinaikos, not only a worldwide audience but even the opponents were left in awe of Barca’s inimitable, incessant first-touch passing that left the Panathinaikos players chasing shadows all night.
In yet another futbolistic recital, with Xavi as the conductor and Leo Messi as the grand protagonist as always, Barcelona seemed to keep possession the entire match while performing an elegant, almost surgical, demolition. Something like Mohammad Ali did to Joe Frazier. Only once did Panathinaikos string two passes past midfield and it lead to a goal, miraculously, against the gravity of the game. For the prior 20 minutes and the ensuing 70, Barca might have played without a goal-keeper because Valdez hung out with nothing to do all night. Messi scored two but could have easily had five, if you count his missed penalty, the post and a bunch of other chances. Xavi missed an incredulous chance, as did Pedro, who actually tried to dribble past the goalkeeper four yard in front of the goal. Barca ball movement was so clinical and sharp that none of the players were content to score a less than perfect goal. 10-0 would have been a very realistic end, so for Panathinaikos, it was the most respectable 1-5 loss the club will ever suffer.
Barcelona normally plays at such an incredible level that it can only set its own standards. Future Barcelona generations will talk about the Xavi-Messi-Iniesta era, Pique and Puyol, now David Villa in the mix, with the highest reverence, long after this exceptional group goes into the history books. For now, it is truly a privilege to witness this team perform the most beautiful game ever played. Respect.