Football / European Cup Final: Barcelona mesmerised by magic of Milan: Italians champions ignore their status as underdogs to reach Olympian heights in the humiliation of Spaniards

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MILAN took the European Cup for the third time in six years, and the fifth overall, with a performance of awesome quality and conviction which reduced Barcelona to the role of bemused onlookers in the Olympic Stadium here last night.

How the Milan president and new Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, must have enjoyed the spectacle as he watched on television in Rome. Earlier he had survived a vote of confidence by six votes, and there were moments during this unusually open final when his team threatened to win by the same margin.

They settled in the end for four, thus repeating their Dutch-inspired demolition of Steaua Bucharest in 1989 and equalling the record they already shared with Real Madrid. The legendary Real side of di Stefano, Gento and Puskas established a landmark with 7-3 rout of Eintracht Frankfurt 34 years ago. It does not dishonour their memory to suggest that Milan's mastery was similarly complete.

Daniele Massaro, who missed a host of chances in last year's final defeat by Marseille, scored the first two goals to ensure that he will never again be dismissed as a player inhibited by the big occasion. However, the man who did most to force the Catalan capitulation was his fellow striker, Dejan Savicevic. The skills of Savicevic, who comes from the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, have never been in doubt; he is a special favourite of Signor Berlusconi's. Milan's coach, Fabio Capello, has taken more convincing, but like Massaro, Savicevic now has nothing left to prove.

He scored one spectacular goal, struck a post from an infinitely easier chance, and generally tormented the Barcelona defence to distraction. Whoever the re- signed, resurgent Ruud Gullit displaces at San Siro, it is unlikely to be Savicevic.

What made Milan's success all the sweeter for the red-and-black legions was Barcelona's status as favourites.

The stage was apparently set for Johan Cruyff's newly crowned Spanish champions to impose their attacking talents on a defence bereft of Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta. What happened was the exact opposite.

Barcelona created only two clear openings, to Guillermo Amor and the Brazilian, Romario. On each occasion they was thwarted by the covering of Paolo Maldini, and both times Milan made good the escape by scoring in practically their next venture upfield.

The opening goal, 13 minutes after Christian Panucci had seen a header disallowed for offside against a colleague, arrived exactly midway through the first half. Savicevic ghosted past Angel Nadal on the right and advanced to the angle of the six-yard box before scooping the ball across goal. Massaro, rushing in beyond the far post, steered the ball home from four yards.

Milan, by now winning even 40- 60 challenges, doubled their lead in first-half injury time. A sweeping, crossfield move, inevitably embellished by Savicevic, seemed to mesmerise Ronald Koeman and Co. So much so that Roberto Donadoni was unchallenged as he cut in along the byline and laid the ball back to Massaro, whose left- foot volley tore into Andoni Zubizarreta's net from 15 yards.

If Barcelona sensed that the game was up, within two minutes of the second half their worst fears were confirmed. Savicevic again skipped contemptuously around the hapless Nadal, and with no sign of Massaro audaciously lobbed the back-pedalling Zubizaretta with the instep of his left foot from a position outside the area near the right touchline.

Cruyff, one of the few who consistently executed such tours de force at the highest level, shook his head. Capello, whose job security had remarkably been the subject of some speculation following a succession of defeats in major finals, managed a half-smile. It soon broadened into something suspiciously resembling a grin as, in the 58th minute, Demetrio Albertini powered through like a rugby prop before releasing Marcel Desailly on goal.

The Ghanaian-born midfielder, such a destructive influence on the French champions' behalf against Milan 12 months ago, demonstrated composure and no little class by curling a right-footed shot round Zubizaretta from level with the penalty spot.

Sebastiano Rossi had to make but one save all evening. Philip Don, who officiated with calm authority befitting a headmaster, was rather busier, issuing four cautions to each team. To Barcelona's despair, it was the only aspect in which they matched Milan.

Savicevic, a European Cup winner in less auspicious circumstances with Red Star Belgrade three years ago, said: 'This was more beautiful because that one ended in a penalty shoot-out while this time we destroyed one of the best European teams.

'For me it was like winning a World Cup. It's my gift to our president. I know that he also won on the political side and so it was a double triumph.'

Mauro Tassotti was more succinct, the Milan full-back saying of beaten Barcelona: 'We tore them into pieces.'

Barcelona (4-1-3-2): Zubizarreta; Ferrer, Koeman, Nadal, Sergi (Enrique, 72); Guardiola; Amor, Bakero, Beguiristain (Eusebio, 53); Stoichkov, Romario. Substitutes not used: Carlos (gk), Busquets, Goicoechea.

Milan: (4-4-2): Rossi; Tassotti, Maldini (Nava, 83), Galli, Panucci; Albertini, Desailly, Donadoni, Boban; Massaro, Savicevic. Substitutes not used: Ielpo (gk), Carbone, Lentini, Simone.

Referee: P Don (England).

(Photograph omitted)