LONDON, May 28, 2011 (AFP) - Barcelona take on Manchester United in the European Champions League final here Saturday with Sir Alex Ferguson predicting a classic finale to the most prestigious tournament in club football.
A worldwide television audience in the hundreds of millions is expected to tune in to Saturday's encounter at Wembley, where a capacity crowd of 90,000 will watch the English and Spanish giants collide.
Barcelona are bidding to seal their status as the finest team of their generation by claiming their second European crown in three years.
|AFP - Manchester United's Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar practices during a training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League final|
Standing in their way however are United, the newly crowned Premier League champions who are desperate to avenge their bitterly disappointing defeat to the Catalans in the Rome final two years ago.
United manager Ferguson stoked the sense of anticipation on Friday, saying the stage was set for one of the great European finals.
"It could be the best final of the decade. The attraction of two great teams with great history is obvious, and it's an appealing final in terms of what could happen in the game. Anything could happen," said Ferguson.
"There could be a lot of goals, there could be a lot of excitement, and there'll be a lot of good football I'm sure of that
"So it's set up, the platform is there, and hopefully it turns out that way."
Ferguson has suggested he is leaning towards an attacking approach as he aims to secure the third European Cup crown of his 25-year reign at Old Trafford.
"We have players who can cause any team a lot of bother and hopefully those attacking players will give Barcelona the problems that everyone thinks they are going to give us," Ferguson said.
"It's not just about Barcelona, it's about us too. We have to work out what gives us the best chance of winning the match. It will be down to how we operate the attacking part."
But to prevail at Wembley they will have to come up with a gameplan that neutralises an attack led by Lionel Messi, operating in front of a midfield boasting the twin talents of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
Messi has been in magical form for Barcelona in Europe, contributing 11 goals and evoking tributes from some admirers that he already deserves to be ranked alongside the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona.
One more goal on Saturday will see Messi equal Ruud van Nistlerooy's record of 12 in a single Champions League campaign.
Ferguson is confident however that Messi can be dealt with.
"We have played against Barcelona three times with Messi in the team," Ferguson said. "But there is always a solution to every good player. Hopefully we can find one on Saturday."
United will take encouragement from the fact that other teams have already demonstrated that Barcelona can be vulnerable to quick counter-attacks.
Ferguson has emphasised to his players that one lapse of concentration on Saturday could be fatal.
It was slack play that led to Barcelona's early opening goal from Samuel Eto'o in Rome two years ago, setting United on the path to defeat.
"We lost the first goal due to that sudden lapse of concentration, that was what cost us really," Ferguson said. "After that they withdrew Messi into central midfield and that made it very difficult for us.
"So concentration is going to be important in terms of attacking and defending. That will be the key for us."