- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2011

WEMBLEY, England — Lionel Messi scored one goal and created another Saturday, leading Barcelona to a 3-1 victory over Manchester United and a third Champions League title in six years.

Barcelona dominated play at Wembley with trademark one-touch passing, but the Spanish champions needed the Argentine striker to conjure a 54th-minute solo strike from the edge of the penalty area to take the lead for the second time.

There seemed to be no space as Messi was tracked by fullback Patrice Evra. But the two-time world player of the year spotted a gap between the central defenders and hit a shot down the middle, beating goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

Messi followed his 53rd goal of a remarkable season with a fake and run that led to David Villa taking possession on the edge of the area. From there, the Spain striker curled a shot into the top corner of the net.

With Pedro Rodriguez scoring the opening goal midway through the first half from an imaginative through ball from Xavi Hernandez, the win was as comprehensive as Barcelona’s 2-0 victory over United in the final two years ago.

Wayne Rooney’s goal in the 34th minute for United left the score 1-1 at halftime. Rooney carried the ball to the edge of the area, slipping it to Ryan Giggs. Giggs knocked it back, giving Rooney the perfect opportunity to curl a shot past goalkeeper Victor Valdes at the far post.

It was said before the game that Barcelona, which already had won a third straight Spanish league title, would be ranked among soccer’s truly great teams with a victory over United. Now, with four European titles, only Liverpool, AC Milan and Barcelona’s fierce rival Real Madrid have won more.

The performance was so comfortable that Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was able to bring on regular captain Carles Puyol for the last few moments, giving the injury-hit defender the chance to play a part in a memorable triumph.

But in a gesture symbolizing Barcelona’s team ethic, Puyol handed the armband over to Eric Abidal. His place on the team had been in doubt after he had surgery this season to remove a liver tumor — and the France defender lifted the famous trophy.

After a shaky opening, Barcelona simply outclassed the English champions. Xavi, standing in as captain for Puyol, orchestrated play from in front of Sergio Busquets, while Andres Iniesta and Messi tormented United with pinpoint passing.

United did improve on its performance in Rome two years ago. But it could do little to disrupt Barcelona, the prevailing force of European soccer.

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