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Down to Two

Written By Justin on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 | 1:58:00 AM

The Champions League Final is upon us, and to the surprise of few, it's Manchester United, the defending champions, against Barcelona, champions from 2006. Both are the newly crowned champions of their domestic leagues, and the game will feature world football's two glittering stars, Ronaldo and Messi. But the goalkeeping matchup is just as intriguing (okay, almost as intriguing).

Victor Valdes has played in and won a Champions League Final. He has held down the number one spot at Barca for several years. Yet he still gets little credit for his ability. In past seasons, he had indeed proven to be error-prone. His gaffes at the Camp Nou in 2007 against Liverpool went a long way towards Barca failing to defend their title. But most observers feel he has improved this season, limiting his errors and turning in occasional matchwinning performances. He was solid over both legs of the semifinal with Chelsea. But there will still be some who consider him a weak link. With Barca missing both regular fullbacks, and with the ever-present threat of Ronaldo's free kicks, one feels he will have to be flawless for the Catalans to triumph.

Edwin Van der Sar, by contrast, is almost universally acclaimed to be at or near the top of his profession. This will be his fourth Champions League Final, his second with United after consecutive appearances in the Final with Ajax in the mid-90s. He was widely, and perhaps charitably, considered the hero in last year's penalty shootout, after keeping out a perfectly dreadful effort from Nicholas Anelka. The cool Dutchman has little to prove, but he'll be under no less pressure than Valdes, facing Barca's juggernaut of attacking riches.

For the glove nuts out there, we'll be seeing the world's two biggest sporting companies, adidas and Nike. VDS has stuck with the new (ugly) Fingersave model, though his is a special make up heavily modified and unavailable to the public. He actually uses the glove body of the cheaper (but more weather resistant) Replique model, with the latex in a negative cut, and the fingersave spines removed. VV is a Nike man, lately wearing the Vapor Grip 3 featuring a Contact Foam latex.

It's impossible to predict the outcome. I hope only for good goalkeeping, good football, honest goals, and no penalties. Match recap with goalkeeper analysis here on Thursday.