Paris was awash with English and Spanish soccer fans on Wednesday all heading up to the Stade de France for the most eagerly-anticipated Champions League final in years.
The Brazilian maestro Ronaldinho lines up against France's Thierry Henry in Paris
The showdown between Thierry Henry's Arsenal and Ronaldinho's Barcelona will pack the 80,000-capacity ground, which hosted the 1998 World Cup final, and the match is also certain to attract a massive television audience around the globe.
The 50th anniversary of the first final won by the famous Real Madrid side of Alfredo di Stefano promises to produce a spectacle in line with the tournament's best traditions with two attack-minded sides.
Thierry Henry loves the big stage
It is not only because the final features a showdown between the world's best two players -- Barcelona's Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho and Arsenal's French maestro Thierry Henry -- that purists are talking optimistically of a classic.
It is the fact that both the Spanish champions and their English opponents have had an attractive, attacking philosophy hardwired into them by their respective coaches, Frank Rijkaard and Arsene Wenger.
Dutch master leads Barcelona to cusp of greatness
Rijkaard was an integral part of the magical, Dutch-inspired AC Milan team that won back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990, and later helped Ajax to the 1995 title in a side that echoed their 'total football' forefathers.
Now Rijkaard has got Barcelona playing with the same sense of abandonment, according to Ronaldinho.
"We're playing football a la Rijkaard," said the two-time world footballer of the year. "It's a game based on open, attacking football. We're not copying anyone. You can't really compare us to any other team."
Barca's style is a dream for Ronaldinho
"It's a style of football that you dream about playing as a footballer, because we are given complete freedom to attack."
Joan Laporta, Barcelona's president, was even more effusive. "The secret of our success is Rijkaard," Laporta said. "He is the Ronaldinho of the bench."
Insiders expect a flowing, open display
Barcelona's former Arsenal fullback Giovanni Van Bronckhorst said the similar mentality of the two sides could make for an open contest.
"Both teams have played really well in the Champions League this year and the philosophy of the two sides is the same, as we want to play attractive football and I think both teams have done that," said Van Bronckhorst.
"So this final will be something of a one-off because normally you have teams that play a bit defensively, but now you will see two teams that like to attack and so it should be a very attractive final."
"A final, though, is only a good one if you win it and we know that we are playing difficult opponents. They now have the record for clean sheets in the Champions League so that is proof of how well they defend."
"We will have to play well to beat them but we will maintain our philosophy no matter what happens."
French connection looking for élan in Paris
Arsenal's run has been a revelation
Arsenal's run to their first Champions League final has been down to a pragmatic streak that saw Wenger opt for an unfamiliar 4-1-4-1 formation.
A solid defense and a five-man midfield, with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb and Robert Pires streaming through in support of Henry, helped account for Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal in the knockout rounds.
Wenger believes that his team will be more relaxed now that they have secured their place in Europe's top competition next year, and is certain the Gunners can unlock the Barcelona back four if they play their natural game.
"If we do that, if we have a real go, I am convinced we can win," said Wenger, who nevertheless sounded a note of caution for the millions of fans anticipating a 'champagne' final.
Many previous finals had been stifled by the fear of failure, he warned.
"It's difficult to predict. Like many finals, as long as nobody scores it stays quite locked," Wenger said. "But because of the importance of the competition, once one team scores it will certainly be an open and crazy game."
Expectations high as world's best do battle
Barca's Number 10 is up for an attacking game
Despite Wenger's measured assessment, Ronaldinho said he doubted that the Arsenal manager would send Arsenal into battle with the game plan of trying to frustrate the Spaniards.
"I like the way Wenger's teams play because it's attack," Ronaldinho said. "A strong defense with players in front of them who are technically very strong, and very quick -- players who know how to make a difference."
"It's a final where you can expect to see goals."