But is this going to be a celebration or a wake? Although today, if Barcelona can avoid defeat against fourth-placed Valencia it will see them set a record 39-game unbeaten streak in La Liga, the Spanish first division, only four days earlier the team turned in a lethargic display in Rome and were knocked out of the European Championship at the quarter-final stage. And Barcelona, like two or three other dominant teams such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, consider themselves the world’s best club, not merely one of the top eight.

Barcelona has often lost before. They have even been well beaten. But this was something else. In Rome they looked like they were thinking about some dolce vita after the game, and the soccer-mad fans in Barcelona have been talking about it ever since. Now, in the La Liga match, it has rained virtually all day before the late-afternoon game, and it is a question how many fans will turn out in the damp and following the humbling in Rome.

With a seating capacity of 99,354, Camp Nou is the largest stadium in Europe, and, in the event, a crowd of 69,554 of the faithful has braved the downpour (possibly, possibly not including our nonchalant shopkeeper). In fact, it finally stops raining shortly before the 4.15pm kickoff, but still many sitting in the three-quarters of the ground without roofing are wearing plastic raincoats, mainly pink or light blue. The attendance is big enough to virtually cover the plastic seats colour-coded to spell out the “Més Que un Club” – More Than a Club – message that is Barcelona’s statement of intent.

So … in Hungary we get a dismal 12-team first division ranked 36th in Europe with an average attendance of 96 plus Viktor Orbán and his dog. La Liga and European Championship coverage is provided by Sport 1 and 2 television. After a few seasons of watching on the box and a season or two thinking about it, The Budapest Times has taken the plunge and is finally seated at the Camp Nou.

This correspondent’s football history goes back decades, to about 1963 at the age of 13 when he suddenly discovered third-division Swindon Town Football Club in Wiltshire, England, and became a heavy fan. A family move to London in 1966 opened up Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Millwall, Crystal Palace and all the other clubs in the capital to the football-mad teenager.

Skinhead hooligans made soccer a dangerous sport to follow in England in the early 1970s. And when this fan moved to Australia later that decade, football all but disappeared for him as it took a weak fourth-place behind three other football codes played Down Under with pointy balls: rugby league, Australian Rules Football (“aerial pingpong”) and rugby union.

Back to Europe in 2006 and a gradual realisation that Hungarian television shows something called La Liga and it is a terrific league. A re-absorption in the sport follows. And finally, sitting in the Camp Nou this April where Barcelona will take on no-slouches Valencia with a chance of beating the 38-match La Liga unbeaten record but four days after the debacle in Rome. What to expect?

In the event, Barcelona take to the pitch to a good round of applause, and we’re only talking about the warm-up. Doing their silly exercises, with boppy music from the Camp Nou loudspeakers in the background, the players actually look like they are dancing.

But here they are for this first-timer from Budapest – in the flesh! Ter Stegen (a German), Piqué, Sergio, Alba, Roberto and Iniesta (Spanish), Suárez (Uruguayan), Messi (Argentinian), Coutinho and Paulinho (Brazil) and Untiti (France). A truly international team, then, as most world top teams are these days, but in the Spanish league at least they seem to have a lot of players from Spanish/Portuguese-speaking South America, if that means anything.

At one point in the game, as the ball switches from Busquets to Iniesta to Alba, it feels like we could be watching Spain play. When captain Iniesta is substituted, as happens often these days to save his ageing legs, it is to the usual standing ovation. This man is the most decorated Spanish footballer of all time, with 33 trophies (we hope that’s the correct figure, soon to be 35 before he goes to China), and helped Spain win Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

Valencia start well as Goncalo Guedes draws a good save from Ter Stegen but Barcelona take the lead as Coutinho's centimetre-perfect through ball is converted first time by Suarez six metres out. From nowhere, a goal in a flash.

In a free-flowing game of chances, Valencia miss opportunities to level before Umtiti rises highest to head in Barcelona’s second from a Coutinho corner. Valencia are allowed back into the game late on as substitute Dembele fouls Gaya in the penalty box. Ter Stegen dives the right way but Parejo’s spot-kick squirms under his body.

The faithful have to endure a nervous final three minutes but, in the end, Valencia have been loftily disposed of 2-1 and Barcelona have broken that 38-match record set by Real Sociedad across 1978-79 and 1979-80. Another six games without defeat and Barcelona will be unbeaten for the entire 2017-18 season. Today, the 69,554 are satisfied, and the unpleasant experience of Roma is perhaps beginning to fade.

It’s a big effort from Budapest to Barcelona for a 90-minute football match but we are satisfied. Perhaps if we come again the new remodelled and expanded Camp Nou that is being planned, with a 105,000 capacity, will be ready. Let’s hope that Futbol Club Barcelona’s democratic principle of ownership by the club members – “Més Que un Club” – won’t allow it to be named Shiny Toothpaste Stadium, or somesuch.

PS: Messi looked frustrated and tired and had an uninspiring game, losing the ball a few times and only having one decent shot that we can remember. But perhaps better to dare mention this only when back home in the safety of Budapest.

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