Barcelona fans celebrate league title, dream of ‘treble’

May 17th, 2009 - 3:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Thierry Henry Madrid, May 17 (DPA) The streets of Barcelona were packed with noisy, euphoric football fans just before midnight Saturday.
Real Madrid, Barcelona’s historic rivals, had just suffered a dramatic, late 3-2 defeat in Villarreal, a result that made Barca league champions.

The loss leaves second-placed Real eight points behind Barca with just two matches left.

The final whistle in Villarreal saw thousands of Barca fans pour into the streets to celebrate, with local police on alert to avoid the same problems as Wednesday night.

Barca Wednesday cruised to the King’s Cup by thrashing hapless Athletic Bilbao 4-1 in the final. The celebrations in the streets of Barcelona lead to 45 arrests and massive damage to shops and other property.

“I hope that we have cause to celebrate tonight,” said Barca President Joan Laporta earlier Saturday, “but I hope that the celebrations are more peaceful and less damaging this time.”

Barca have now won 19 Spanish league titles, 12 less than Real but 10 more than Atletico Madrid.

More importantly, Josep Guardiola’s elegant team still have a chance to pull off the “treble” of league, cup and Champions League titles, something that no Spanish team - not even the legendary Real sides of the late 1950s - has been able to achieve.

Barca face holders Manchester United in the Champions final May 27 in Rome.

“League, cup… and now for the Champions!” was the headline on the website of Catalan sports paper Mundo Deportivo straight after Real’s defeat in Villarreal.

Julio Salinas, part of Johan Cruyff’s Barca “Dream Team” of the early 1990s, said on television channel La Sexta early Sunday: “This present Barca side is one of the best football teams ever… and it would be appropriate if this team were to be crowned champions of Europe as well as of Spain.”

Guardiola will put out a reserve-packed side for the game at Mallorca, now that the league trophy has been won.

However, his players are keen in their last three games to break the all-time Spanish scoring record of 107 goals - achieved by Real Madrid in the 1989-90 season. So far they have scored 103.

The principal architect of Barca’s success has been Guardiola, whose appointment by Laporta a year ago raised eyebrows because of his lack of top-line experience.

Guardiola, 38, has made only a few changes to the under-achieving team that he inherited from Frank Rijkaard.

He immediately showed the door to ageing midfielders Ronaldinho and Deco, believing that they had lost their hunger. He brought in indefatigable right-back Dani Alves and hard-working midfielder Seydou Keita from Sevilla and brought local boy Gerard Pique back from Manchester.

Pique, tall and commanding at the back, has turned out to be the revelation of the season, together with young midfielder Sergio Busquets, plucked from the nursery team by Guardiola.

The excellent form of Pique and Guardiola has led both youngsters making their Spain debuts.

The other key players for Guardiola have been defenders Rafa Marquez and Carles Puyol, midfield general Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and forwards Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o.

Guardiola has managed to revitalise Henry in a way that seemed impossible 12 months ago.

He originally tried to sell off Eto’o - and may try again this summer - but then improved his relations with the explosive African when no convincing offers came in and has been rewarded with 25 goals.

The Barca medical staff will be working round the clock to get Iniesta and Henry fit for the Champions final, though Marquez will be not ready in time.

In Rome, Guardiola will have to put together a makeshift defence, because full-backs Alves and Eric Abidal are both suspended.

However, given the magnitude of what he has achieved already this season, only a fool would bet against Guardiola leading his patched-up team to further glory May 27.

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