Barcelona were making a record eighth appearance in UEFA’s traditional Monte Carlo curtain raiser. As a millionaires’ playground Monaco can be seen as an end point of Europe; a place where those who have attained great wealth come to enjoy flounting it.
For football though, Monaco in late August offered FC Porto and Barça with not just an opportunity to sit back and soak up the sun; it also served as a point of kick-off for the new football campaign.
The changing of the guard takes place daily at 11:55am at the Royal Palace in Monte Carlo. But whether the evenings’ events would see European football’s royalty change places was the big question on everyone’s lips as battle commenced on a warm night.
Barcelona vs. FC Porto
UEFA Super Cup
Friday 26th August 2011
Stadio Louis II, Monaco
There is something special about a warm night on the south of France in August. All day the sun shone and fans sang as more and more arrived by train.
The Stade Louis II was named after the grandfather of Monaco’s late Prince Rainer III who opened the stadium in 1985. Given that ‘space’ is a problem in the tiny principality one end of the ground on opening was deliberately left open. This was done to provide views of the hills close by and to allow the strong mistral winds to ventilate the pitch.
Despite being in the centre of the principality this is a stadium that sits in harmony with its environment from just about every single angle. Mountains peak over the stands and the interiors are grand fit for a prince.
But what is out in the open to see, touch and feel hides what is underneath the construction. Many of the venues’s facilities are underground, including a car park, a swimming pool and a gymnasia.
The stark fact about the Stade Louis II comes in the capacity of the Stade Louis II – 18,500. The ground can seat almost two-thirds of the principality of Monaco’s 30,000 population.
FC Porto, as Europa League holders, went into the game as Portuguese Champions winning the title by an incredible 21 points ahead of rivals Benfica.
The club however, were now underneath a different coach, with Vilas Boas leaving for Chelsea and the Vítor Pereira accepting the coaching armband.
Barcelona, who won the 2011 Champions League at Wembley ventured to Monte Carlo in expectancy rather than hope. During May of 2011, Barcelona had clinched its fourth Champions League trophy with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.
The Barcelona attack, spearheaded by its three forwards of Messi, David Villa and Pedro, all of whom all scored a goal, dominated Manchester United.
At the end of the game the manager of Man United Sir Alex Ferguson said that his team had gotten a ‘doing’. Over ran in midfield Manchester United could not cope with the attacking intentions of a Barcelona side laden with world champions.
The Super Cup
With fans swarming into Monaco half hourly from the nearby Nice Cote d’Azur airport the centre of Monte Carlo by 5pm was alive with fans of both teams. A location of numerous short cuts and modern tunnel throughways the go to place for those seeking a quieter day was the Palais du Prince (Prince’s Palace) which is located in old Monaco-Ville.
For the more adventurous the harbour area provided the opportunity to gaze at the numerous super yachts and cruise ships which adorned the rich mans playground of the marina.
In the end UEFA’s prestigious season curtain raiser served up a spectacle fit for watching royalty. Midfield magician Cesc Fábregas marked his arrival in Catalonia with the clinching goal and Barcelona fans celebrated with numerous pyrotechnic devices.
The winning goal, which came 2 minutes from time, was a volleyed finish from the former Arsenal captain. It followed a pinpoint cross from Messi who had earlier given Barca the lead in a mesmerising performance.
FC Porto in contrast provided those who had gathered with an inconsistent performance. Indeed the game ended in disarray with the Portuguese side ending with just nine players on the pitch. For Fredy Guarín the game was brutally disappointing for it was he who gave away the ball for Barcelona’s first goal.
Capping a miserable night the Colombian was then sent off for a wild challenge on Javier Mascherano in the final minute by Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers. He joined Rolando in the dressing room for an early bath who had minutes earlier been sent off for a second yellow.
Barcelona added yet another trophy to their roll of honour under Josep Guardiola, their second win in three years and fourth overall. Xavi, Iniesta and Messi had been quite simply engaging and out of this world.
This was elite football with world class performers playing at the pinnacle of careers. I have watched football for over 34 years but few players like Messi make you get off your seat in excitement as much as he does. You knew looking on that you were privaleged to be watching greatness.
Fresh from becoming the first recipient of the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, Lionel Messi was the epitome of coolness on a sweltering night in Monaco.
Porto now minus Falcao simply had no answer.
Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano, Seydou Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, David Villa.
Subs used: Fabregas, Busquets, Alexis Sanchez
FC Porto: Helton (c), Sapunaru, Rolando, Otamendi, Fucile, Souza, Guarin, Moutinho, Hulk, Rodriguez, Kleber.
Subs Used: Belluschi, Fernando, Varela
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers