With ninety seconds left to play at Wembley Stadium last night the moment came, and when it did it was reminiscent of a Bayern Munich hero of the past. Arjen Robben had already skipped into position between two defenders, and with a swivel of his hips he sent a scuffed shot across the Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller which trickled agonisingly over the line to win the 2013 UEFA Champions League for Bayern with a move that had a hint of the golden days of Gerd Muller about it. For the massed ranks of Dortmund supporters packed into Wembley, it was an unbearable moment, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s difficult to argue that Bayern Munich, for their performance on the evening and over the course of this season both domestically and in Europe, didn’t deserve to lift this trophy.
The previous eighty-eight and a half minutes had been a glorious vindication of the hype that has surrounded the Bundesliga over the course of this season. This league has never been one solely for the obscurists – its average attendances are the highest in the world, after all – but in recent years it has come to sit in the shade of La Liga and the Premier League. It was a match of ebb and flow, of technical excellence and brute force. It was not without controversy, in the form of forearm smash by Franck Ribery during the first half which might, on another day, have brought about a red card, and Borussia Dortmund played a full part in the match themselves. Indeed, had it not been for heroics from the Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer they might even have put the match beyond reasonable doubt before the pre-match favourites even began to rumble to life.
The build-up to the match had been a skilful education in public relations by Borussia Dortmund, from the interview that the Guardian published with their head coach Jurgen Klopp at the start of last week to the advertisement thanking England for inventing the game one hundred and fifty years ago and signed “From Dortmund with Love.” Yet even those who might have felt a little queasy at this might, perhaps, have some degree of sympathy for Dortmund when we consider the strong-arm financial gamesmanship which has already prized Mario Gotze to Bayern this summer and might yet result in further departures to Munich. Robert Lewandowski, for example, may have been wearing the yellow and black of Dortmund last night, but his agent was a guest of Bayern, whose coach Jupp Heynckes said at a post-match press conference that, “We know Mario Goetze will be joining us and I don’t think Lewandowski will be hanging about too much either.” Small wonder Bayern are so unpopular in Germany.
That Bayern were still in the match with half an hour played was down to Neuer, who joined the club from another club that might consider itself rivals of the club, Schalke 04, in 2011. They paid €22m for his services two years ago, and the four or five excellent saves that he made as Dortmund pushed Bayern back towards their own goal must made the second most expensive goalkeeper – at the time of his signing – look like a bargain when Bayern eventually did manage to strong-arm their way back into the match in the final third of the half, a period during which Neuer’s opposite number Roman Weidenfeller covered himself in similar distinction in keeping the score goalless until half-time. In the space of seven second half minutes, though, a match that had been intriguing rather than exciting suddenly caught fire. Robben teed up Mario Mandzukic to given Bayern the lead with an hour played, but their lead lasted for just seven minutes before Ilkay Gundogan levelled from the penalty spot for Dortmund after an incident which might, on another day, have led to a red card for Munich’s Dante.
Then Robben, who had missed enough chances to put the result beyond doubt for Munich on his own earlier in the match, had his moment in the sun and Bayern lifted the trophy for the fifth time. It was, undoubtedly, a cathartic moment for a club that suffered the trauma of losing the final on their own home turf against Chelsea just twelve months ago, and with further reinforcements due in the summer they will be expected to mount a strong defence of their trophy again next season. Borussia Dortmund, meanwhile, may lose further players to the billionaires of European football this summer. Whether they will be able to close the twenty-five point gap that Bayern opened up in the Bundesliga by the end of the season that has just ended is debatable, to say the least.
Still, though, yesterday evening’s match was a reminder of what football can be and what it might be again across Europe. The standard of play at Wembley last night was of the highest quality. This was a match that was truly befitting of the occasion, even if football’s romantics in England didn’t quite get the result that they might have wanted. And it might be argued that the performances of both Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have set a new bar for the standard of competition for next season. Real Madrid and Barcelona were both swept aside by these two clubs in the semi-finals of this year’s competition, and it might well be that the English entrants into next year’s competition, three of which may well be in transitional phases of some sort or another, have an even greater gap to make up if they are to improve upon last season’s performances in the competition. A fitting end to this year’s competition throws up many questions about next year’s which we will not know the answers to for another twelve months.
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