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Monday 5 December 2016

Suarez the star as Barcelona win the Champions League

Barcelona's Neymar celebrates with the trophy and team mates after winning the UEFA Champions League
Barcelona's Neymar celebrates with the trophy and team mates after winning the UEFA Champions League

Luis Suarez made it a perfect ending to Barcelona's astonishing season with the Champions League final winner against Juventus.

A season that began in disgrace with the former Liverpool striker banned for his World Cup biting misdemeanour ended in glory for the 28-year-old.

Barcelona had dominated the final and seemed to be cruising through Ivan Rakitic's fourth-minute goal, but Alvaro Morata equalised and breathed new life into the Old Lady. Barcelona were rattled for a time but Suarez struck the decider, before Neymar made it 3-1 deep in injury time to ensure a remarkable treble for the Catalan club, who have emulated their achievements of 2009.

From the kick-off in Berlin's Olympic Stadium, Barcelona purred into gear rather like a German-built engine.

Less than four minutes had gone before a quite exquisite 16-pass move involving every outfield player bar Suarez led to Rakitic opening the scoring. Lionel Messi's pass out to Neymar was mouth-watering, and the Brazilian picked out the run of Andres Iniesta who played it across for Rakitic to apply a first-time finish.

Juventus looked clueless and aimless, summed up by Arturo Vidal - the Chilean had lost Iniesta in the build-up to the goal and then lost his head, charging around and diving in recklessly. A stricter referee than Turkey's Cuneyt Cakir might easily have sent him off before half-time.

That Barcelona did not run away with the match in the first half was almost solely down to Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus goalkeeper may be 37 but his reactions appear undiminished by the passing of the years, highlighted by a one-handed save from Jordi Alba that almost defied belief.

Buffon was equally superb to deny Suarez, palming the ball over the crossbar, while his team-mates laboured to stay in the game.

Yet for all of Barcelona's dominance, a second goal proved elusive before the break and Juventus had enough half-chances to keep their hopes alive.

Vidal blazed over, Paul Pogba raced away only for Javier Mascherano to intervene, then Claudio Marchisio sent a screamer just over the crossbar.

But that Catalan class was always just under the surface. After half-time, Barcelona broke so quickly there were five red and blue shirts pouring forward and just three Juventus players. Once again Buffon was the Juventus saviour, turning aside Suarez's fierce strike.

Still they came: Messi was involved in some mesmerising one-touch play before shooting a yard past the angle.

Perhaps Barcelona believed the game was in the bag, and if so Juventus shattered that complacency 10 minutes after the break.

Claudio Marchisio's sweet back-heel found Carlos Tevez whose shot on the turn was well saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the ball broke to Morata to fire home.

Suddenly it was Juventus who believed. Tevez was unmarked on the edge of the box but scooped over, then Pogba shot straight into the arms of Ter Stegen.

They had needed one of those to go in, for in the 68th minute Barcelona were back ahead. Messi ran at the Juventus defence and drove at Buffon who could only parry it across goal. Suarez arrived first, just ahead of his old adversary Patrice Evra, and never looked like missing: smashing it into the top corner and then leaping the advertising board for a frenzied celebration.

Neymar had the ball in the net for Barcelona once more soon afterwards, but the official behind the goal ruled it out: he made connection with his head, but the ball then bounced in off his hand.

Marchisio, Juventus' best player on the night, had Barcelona hearts racing with a long-range strike turned aside, but Neymar had the last word. He drilled the ball low past Buffon in the final action of the match, making his club the champions of Europe for a fifth time.

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