As Barcelona were crowned champions of Europe for the second time at the home of English football.
Lionel Messi inspired a second victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in the space of three years, leaving the United manager the summer to contemplate another one that got away.
It was the Catalans who repeated their Wembley triumph of 1992, rather than United emulating Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best’s famous night against Benfica.
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Goals from Pedro, Messi and David Villa meant Wayne Rooney’s 34th minute strike was merely a consolation on a night when Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side showed why they are considered the world’s greatest.
Rooney’s goal meant United headed into the break on parity after Pedro put Barca ahead, but the Premier League champions were simply blown away in the second half.
Messi and Villa did the damage, but it could have been so much worse as the 2009 champions tore through their opponents at will.
Ferguson had been determined to avenge United’s last defeat to Barca, losing 2-0 in Rome two years ago.
Starting with a bold 4-4-2, the main surprise on his team sheet was the decision to leave Dimitar Berbatov out altogether.
Michael Owen was named on the substitutes’ bench instead of the Bulgarian, who ended the season as joint leading scorer in Premier League along with Carlos Tevez.
United began the match in confident fashion, dominating the opening 10 minutes.
But the game looked in danger of mirroring the 2009 final, with the Catalans gradually finding their rhythm and keeping possession at will.
Pedro should have put them ahead after 16 minutes when connecting with Xavi’s cross from the right from six yards out.
But instead of testing Edwin Van der Sar, he fired wide, handing United an enormous reprieve.
It was warning, if needed, of Barca’s considerable threat and with United struggling to get a foothold in the match, Pedro made up for that wasted effort when again combining Xavi to shoot past Van der Sar on 27 minutes.
The crucial task for United was not to let the game pass them by as it had in Rome two years ago and they ensured that wasn’t going to be the case when Rooney equalised seven minutes later.
From Eric Abidal’s throw-in towards his own corner flag, Rooney picked up possession and charged at goal.
Flicking a pass to Ryan Giggs, who looked to be offside, he got the ball back in an instant and flashed a shot past Victor Valdes, leaving the sides level at half time.
But it was Barca who came out with renewed purpose in the second half.
Seven minutes after the break Dani Alvez was sent clear on the right with just the goalkeeper to beat, but from the angle, Van der Sar stood strong, blocking the effort.
But less than two minutes later Barca were in front again and it was down to the brilliance of Messi. Cutting inside Patrice Evra from the left, the Argentine struck a low shot that left United’s keeper with no chance.
He forced another save from Van der Sar shortly after – and United had to rely on Fabio to clear off the line as Barca continued to attack in waves.
Ferguson went for it, throwing on Nani in place of Fabio, but within seconds it was 3-1.
When the Portuguese winger failed to clear after another Messi run, the ball broke to Villa, who curled an inch perfect shot into the top corner.
Andres Iniesta tried an audacious lob as United went in search of way back into the match.
It was a reminder of the special collection of talent at Pep Guardiola’s disposal, while for Ferguson, proof once again that this side remains a work in progress.