End of an era for Barcelona after humiliation?2 hours 44 minutes ago
Lionel Messi could only sit by helplessly and watch as Barcelona suffered the most astonishing humiliation in its recent history.
While as an individual Messi, nursing his ailing hamstring on the sidelines, remains undisputedly the best on the planet, his team may no longer be able to make the same boast after Bayern Munich ripped them apart at the seams in the second leg of this Champions League semifinal.
Barcelona forward David Villa reacts during the Champions League semifinal. (AP)As if its 4-0 victory in the opening leg was not enough, Bayern followed it up on Wednesday by marching into Barca's famed Nou Camp stadium and drilling the hosts 3-0 on their own turf.
Even the absence of Messi could not be used as an excuse as the Spanish side, so well-drilled and tireless and dominant in recent years, were simply outplayed in all facets of the game.
Embarrassment does not even begin to describe the feeling in this proud Catalan city, one which has become so accustomed to seeing its pride and joy conquer all.
If soccer is a religion in Barcelona, this was its Armageddon, a desperate and demoralizing experience that it will take decades to fully forget. And crucially, the question must now be asked, is this the end of an era?
Because Bayern may have just provided the blueprint for taming the heretofore untamable. [Related: Soccer player Justin Fashanu's coming-out story ends in tragedy]
The German side did it with effort and poise and pressure, but most of all persistence, refusing to give Barca’s players time on the ball or clear passing openings. While a fully-fit Messi would have added some spark, those who believe his presence would have altered the overall outcome are delusional.
Even after Barca lost to Chelsea in last season's semifinal, the invincibility was still in place. Chelsea, by common consensus and even its own admission, had gotten lucky, defending resolutely and taking a rare scoring opportunity.
But the mystical powers have gone now and future opponents will have belief that they too can combat Barca’s attacking genius. The tears trickling down Cesc Fabregas' cheek symbolized the new reality that Barca is, after all, human.
Going into Wednesday, no one expected this. While few envisioned a Barca four-goal fightback, most expected them to give it a decent shake. Not so, not even from the start. And certainly not from the moment Arjen Robben curled in Bayern's first of the night after 48 minutes, leaving his team's place in the final beyond all doubt, if it wasn't already.
Then it just got ugly, Gerard Pique knocking the ball into his own net with his carelessly outstretched knee as Barca lost shape and focus. Thomas Mueller added a third, just for laughs, towards the end and the rout was complete.
So what now?
What now for Bayern is an all-German affair in the final, against Borussia Dortmund at London's Wembley Stadium on May 25. What now for Barca is a little trickier, and a lot more long-term.
New arrivals are guaranteed and the choice of whom will lend a clue as to whether the club wants to maintain its close possession, short-passing game, or take a more direct approach.
Young Brazilian superstar Neymar would add a dash of extra flair, while powerful Welsh midfielder Gareth Bale, the English Premier League player of the season, would inject force. Neither would be cheap, but Barca will not be shy about spending to try to reestablish its dominance.
With the money at its disposal, a rebuilding project can be undertaken and it may not be long to see the status quo restored. For now though, it is German soccer that is at the top of the heap.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich may not have the same gravitas as Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, but it is the right final, featuring two teams fully deserving of their new status as the best on the continent.