If a face can launch a thousand ships and a picture's worth a thousand words, then what superlative can we use to describe the art form which is Barcelona F.C.? The greatest soccer show on earth visited London this week as the Spanish champions sought to secure a place in the semifinal of the Champions League.
And when ninety minutes of enthralling football was done, even the most stubborn of experts were found wanting for words to categorize what they had just seen.
Arsenal, the other half of the equation, are accustomed to visiting upon their domestic opponents the same sort of humiliation as the Spaniards imposed upon them on Wednesday evening.
The Gunners were enslaved for most of the evening at the Emirates Stadium as everyone in yellow wrote themselves into the memory with one of the most compelling displays ever. Don't get me wrong, there have been better performances from the Catalans (the greatest from any team in this writer's lifetime being Barca's 6-2 thrashing of Real Madrid on their own patch last year), but this one was almost as mesmeric while it lasted.
Gol TV (a pay soccer channel) is where Barcelona may be seen each week. The channel is also home to former professional player and DC United coach Ray Hudson, who calls the plays from La Liga. The ex-Newcastle United midfielder has, on many occasions, labeled Barcelona as the greatest team on the planet, using terms such as "heavenly", "imperious", and "majestic" to describe the fare they produce.
Hudson is spot on in his assessment of the reigning European champions -- his ultra colorful comments and the wizardry of the team from Camp Nou making the perfect marriage.
Against Arsenal, Barcelona passed the ball in wondrous ways, from their Brazilian full-backs Dani Alves and Maxwell to Xavi, Keita and the roving Pedro in midfield. The world's greatest player, Argentina's Lionel Messi, was everywhere: turning up like a ghost to haunt the home team on the left, on the right, and bang in front of goal, while the imposing figure of Swedish international Zlatan Ibrahimovic was also a constant menace.
Every pass from the Spaniards was short and purposeful, reducing tens of millions of dollars of talent in the red and white shirts to mere spectators for most of the evening.
But in typical Barcelona fashion they took their foot off the gas and allowed their opponents back into the contest.
And ironically, after the short passing game had manufactured a procession of chances for the visitors, Barca took the lead via a long ball from Gerard Pique -- Ibrahimovic lobbing the confused Manuel Almunia from 25 yards -- and followed that with a power finish from the Swede. But Theo Walcott was allowed to roam down the right and the England international netted a fine individual goal. Cesc Fabergas gave the final score line a false appearance (2-2) with a late penalty.
There are still those who will criticize Barca for their failure to defend leads and close out games. There will also always be those so blind that they'll never see beauty, the type of beauty which reduced Arsenal fans to tears and is worthy of any time capsule depicting soccer in 2010.
Speaking of his team's performance in London and looking forward to their weekend date with Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said:
"It is the team's objective to maintain tone. We are on a very good trajectory, but there are also a lot of factors that influence this play: that the other team plays the ball, the state of the pitch, etc... tomorrow (against Bilbao, a game Barcelona won 4-1) we cannot go out waiting to repeat the same sort of performance."
"That the other team plays the ball" surely won't be a concern at the Bernabeau this coming Saturday (April 10), when Real Madrid host Barca in a contest pivotal to the destination of this season's Spanish championship.
In between there is the return leg of Barca's tie with Arsenal (Tuesday, April 6, on FOX Soccer Channel) while Manchester United's bid to overturn a one-goal deficit versus visiting Bayern Munich (the following day on FSC) will also peak interest among local fans.
Inter Milan have a big job to do in Moscow, while Lyon should have enough in reserve to see off the challenge of Bordeaux in the other Champions League quarterfinal.
This time last year we were left with dropped jaws following Barcelona's defeat of Chelsea at the semi-final stage of the Champions League. A year on we remain mesmerized by this team which has reached the pinnacle of the sport and, ludicrous as it sounds, seems incapable of a bad performance.
We are privileged to live in the era of Barcelona F.C. -- I hope you will join me in confirming the Spanish aristocrats of soccer as the greatest team of all time.
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