Barcelona 2, Arsenal 1

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SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) – Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti scored in the final 15 minutes to lead Barcelona past Arsenal 2-1 Wednesday night in the final of the European Champions League.

Barcelona, whose only previous Champions title came in 1992, played with a man-advantage after Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was ejected in the 20th minute for taking down Eto’o just outside the penalty area.

But the Gunners took a 1-0 lead in the 37th minute when Sol Campbell headed in Thierry Henry’s free kick.

Arsenal had gone a Champions League-record 10 consecutive games without allowing a goal. Eto’o, a Cameroon star who has won Africa’s player of the year award for three straight years, ended the streak in the 76th minute, taking a through ball from Henrik Larsson and beating backup goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.

Belletti, a defender, got the go-ahead goal four minutes later, taking a pass from Larsson and sending a low cross in front that went into the net off Almunia.

“We played a great game,” said Barcelona’s Deco, who won the title with Porto in 2004. “I hope people don’t forget this.”

It was Arsenal’s first appearance in the final, and the loss made it a disappointing homecoming for coach Arsene Wenger and forward Thierry Henry, who was furious with Norwegian referee Terje Hauge.

“I don’t know if the ref had a Barcelona shirt on or something,” Henry said. “If they don’t want us to win it, just say it right from the start. I don’t think he cost us the final, because we were 1-nil up. I always expect the ref to do his job. I don’t think he did.”

Henry nearly scored twice in the first three minutes, but goalkeeper Victor Valdes blocked his shot, then fisted away a 20-yarder.

Barcelona thought it had taken the lead in the 18th minute when Ronaldinho fed Eto’o, Lehmann fouled the forward and the ball rolled to Ludovic Giuly, who shot it into an empty net. But Hauge already had blown his whistle for a foul. Almunia came in to play goal, replacing midfielder Robert Pires. Ronaldinho.

“We could have won it. This is hard for us,” Fredrik Ljungberg said. “They are a great side, but I felt we controlled it quite well. Unfortunately, they got the goals.”

AP-ES-05-17-06 1716EDT


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