Messi misses out on Euro final

May 17, 2006

Barcelona's livewire Argentine forward Lionel Messi missed out on his side's showdown against Arsenal in the Champions League final after he failed to make the 18-man squad for Wednesday's clash at the Stade de France.

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Barca coach Frank Rijkaard deemed it too risky to include the 18-year-old who has not played since tearing a thigh muscle in the second leg of his side's tie against Chelsea on March 7.

With Messi out, Barca's three-man attack consisted of World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, three-times African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto'o and Frenchman Ludovic Giuly who was on the losing side when Monaco met Porto in the 2004 final.

Rijkaard also decided to beef up his midfield by including experienced Dutch international Mark van Bommel at the expense of talented Spanish youngster Andres Iniesta.

Opposite number Arsene Wenger, aiming to steer the north Londoners to their first European Cup triumph, welcomed back Ashley Cole on the left side of defence, with England colleague Sol Campbell slotting into the centre of the back four.

Wenger gave Frenchman Robert Pires a place in the starting line-up on his last appearance for Arsenal before he joins Villarreal and left Spaniard Jose Antonio Reyes on the bench.

Barca's Henrik Larsson and Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp, both playing their last matches for their clubs, were given places on the bench.

Hundreds of fans pleading for the chance to buy a ticket to the 50th anniversary final lined the routes to the Stade de France, with black market prices starting at the £1,000 mark.

Barcelona fans, clad in the club's famous scarlet and blue shirts or their fluorescent yellow away kit, were the first to make themselves heard as they arrived early at the north end of the stadium.

They began with a rendition of the club anthem and then jeered the images of arch-rivals Real Madrid as they appeared on the stadium video screens in a film marking the 50th anniversary of the competition.

The last time the European Cup final was played in Paris, Real Madrid beat Valencia 3-0 in an all-Spanish showdown in 2000.

But Arsenal can also take some heart from the history books as the only previous Anglo-Spanish battle in the final took place in Paris when Liverpool defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in 1981.

On the other hand, it was exactly six years ago, on May 17, 2000, when Arsenal lost on penalties to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup final.

Barcelona team: Valdes; Oleguer, Puyol, Marquez, Van Bronckhorst; Edmilson, Van Bommel, Deco, Giuly, Ronaldinho; Eto'o.

Arsenal team: Lehmann; Eboue, Toure, Campbell, Cole; Ljungberg, Hleb, Gilberto, Fabregas, Pires; Henry.