How close was Estudiantes from achieving a most improbable and most stupendous victory against the world’s best club and entering the pantheon of impossible champions? Two and a few more extra time minutes. But after relentless pressure, as it always happens, a space opened up … a favorable bounce … fatigue to a minor lapse of concentration … and so, by the end of regulation everything was even. Barcelona could breathe knowing that it had escaped a shock ending to the greatest campaign in soccer history.
Estudiantes, in fact, did play like a champion. As usual, the Argentines showed zero intimidation and from the outset played with purpose and determination under the guidance of veteran captain, Juan Sebastian Veron. The magisterial La Bruja has lost a bit of quickness, but his midfield presence and smart sense for the game remain commanding. Barca was off in the first half, perhaps uninspired. Spaces closed quickly and Estudiantes was first to the ball. This allowed Boselli, like a cobra, to strike from a slightly off-side, perhaps debatable position. A beautiful goal, just what the match needed.
A parenthesis: how is Boselli being overlooked by rich European teams in need of firepower? He has been a phenomenal scoring machine for the past couple of seasons. Or is it amazing that Estudiantes has been able to hold on to him.
In the second half Barca played with urgency throughout and Estudiantes took a step back to defend collectively. Defend they did, bravely and almost flawlessly for forty three minutes. Zlatan, practice your headers. On a day when Henry hardly contributed and Messi was largely anonymous until he delivered the winner, just as he was about to be named FIFA Player of the Year, Guardiola moved Pique up as a second center forward alongside Ibrahimovic. The equalizer, deserved as it may have been, was a dagger for the Argentines, who came so close to a tremendous achievement, but saw it somehow slip away.
In the end, it was a night of winners all around. It all ended with the lasting image of Guardiola’s emotional awe, in full global view, at the conclusion of the most triumphant campaign in history – six titles – one in which he steered brilliantly a truly exceptional squad. At the same time, the sight of some of the strongest Estudiantes players visibly suffering and on the cusp of tears was touching. Estudiantes returned to Argentina heroes, having represented the nation magnificently and pushing the best club in the world to its absolute limits. Even FIFA and the hosts fared well. Saludos y felicidades!