Manchester United were never able to control Barcelona's midfield or deal with the brilliance of Lionel Messi as they were overwhelmed 3-1 in Saturday's Champions League final, manager Alex Ferguson said.
Like many before them, United had no answer to the wonderful passing of the players who did so much to help Spain become world and European champions and seemed powerless to get a grip on Messi as he danced through their defence almost at will.
"They do mesmerise you with their passing," Ferguson told a news conference in the bowels of Wembley to the background accompaniment of departing Barcelona fans celebrating their third European title in six years.
"We never really controlled Messi, but many people have said that. We never really closed the midfield well enough to counter them.
"We tried to play as near to the way we normally play. For instance, it's alien to us to try to man-mark players. We tried to play as normally as we can. It wasn't good enough on the night, we acknowledge that."
United actually started well but, just as they did when they lost the 2009 final to Barcelona in Rome, they quickly fell away.
Pedro put the Spaniards ahead after 27 minutes but there was a spark of hope for United when Wayne Rooney fashioned an excellent equaliser seven minutes later.
"When we got the lifeline I expected us to do better in the second half, but it wasn't to be," said Ferguson, whose hopes were blown away by second-half goals from Messi and David Villa.
"Nobody's given us a hiding like that but they deserve it because they play the right way and they enjoy their football."
Ferguson has led United to three Champions League finals in four years, winning in 2008 having also triumphed in 1999, and said he was now facing up to the task of finding a way to compete with Barcelona for the ultimate club honour.
"It's not easy but that's the challenge, we shouldn't be afraid of that," he said.
"The challenge is always to improve yourselves, to build your team, I think we have some very good players, we'll mull it over in the summer.
"We've been consistent in Europe in the last few years but maybe this might be the same sort of stepping stone as when they beat us 4-0 a few years ago," he added in reference to the group-stage Nou Camp drubbing in 1994.
"Great teams do go in cycles and the cycle they are in at the moment is the best in Europe.
"How long it lasts and whether they can replace that team, they certainly have the philosophy ... it's always difficult to say that you can find players like Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta and Messi, probably not, but they are enjoying the moment.
"In my time as a manager I'd say yes, they are the best team I've faced."
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