“Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” Gary Lineker, Former England and Tottenham striker.
Lineker made that statement 23 years ago this summer, after England lost their 1990 World Cup semifinal to Germany in a penalty shootout in Italy. On May 25th, football fans around the world will gather in pubs and sports bars to watch the biggest game played in non-World Cup and non-European Championship years, the final of the UEFA Champions League. Unlike during World War II, there’s no need for the English to fear the arrival of the Germans at Wembley Stadium. This time they’ll be bringing the best rivalry in the game to the home of football.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund weren’t the popular picks to make it this far in the 32-team knockout tournament, not when their opponents in the semifinals were two of the best teams in the world over the past three seasons, Barcelona and Real Madrid. But something strange happened over the course of the home-and-home semis. Munich and Dortmund dispatched the Spanish sides with dramatic and relative ease. It wasn’t even close. It left many experts and journalists alike stunned. They had no choice but to acknowledge the growing influence the German Bundesliga is having on the club game.
This is the first time two German clubs have reached the Champions League final. To say these teams despise each other is an insult to their rivalry. This game means so much to these clubs and their fans; it’s like if game seven of the Stanley Cup Final between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens, game seven of the World Series between the Yankees and Mets and the Super Bowl between the Patriots and 49ers, were all played in the same stadium at the same time. Imagine the passionate fans, the historical rivalry, the hatred the old guard feel to the new boys on the block all packed into one stadium. One game with bragging rights and millions in prize money on the line.
There are enough storylines in this game, it reads like the most clichéd Hollywood script ever written. Bayern is the big spending powerhouse who captured the German league title after losing out the two previous seasons to Dortmund, the smaller, homegrown, budget-conscious club. For Bayern, this is the third final in four years. They lost the previous two to Inter Milan in 2010 and last year to Chelsea on their home ground. They are also in the Cup final for a 10th time, trailing only Real Madrid (12) and AC Milan (11). Despite the regular appearances, their most recent win was back in 2001.
For Dortmund, this will be their second Champions League final. They won their first appearance in a final in 1997. Borussia are a club that have stricter financial restrictions. Like most teams in sports around the world, they go through the traditional cyclical ebbs and flows of building a winner from within before going out and signing the quality pieces they need to reach the peak of the league.
Rodrigo Salazar, co-host of Soccer Senseis, a weekly radio show, sees it this way:
These teams have never liked each other, and I am sure that will be on display at Wembley for the Champions League final. They played a league match a few weeks ago and even though it meant nothing (Bayern was mathematically Bundesliga champions by then) and they fielded mostly second-string players, the game got very snippy.
Bayern Munich is known as FC Hollywood because of all the superstars they have on their roster and the drama they bring on and off the pitch. It’s ironic that the team, as the leading club in Germany, had an inferiority complex when it comes to the Champion’s League. In past years, players of the caliber of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben seemed to shrink on football’s biggest stage… This year, they turned it around and beat Barcelona, what many consider the best team of all time, to get to the final.
Borussia Dortmund are a young, exciting side coached by the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp. To give you an idea of how good he is, Klopp was mentioned as a possible successor to Sir Alex (Ferguson) at Manchester United and is still being bandied about for the Real Madrid job. He has been able to take a team who pays less in wages than (some of the worst Premier League teams in England) to second place in the German championship and the Champion’s League final.
Ramping up the tension in the game, is the announcement weeks ago that Bayern had signed a 20-year old midfielder nicknamed “The German Lionel Messi”. Mario Götze also happens to be Dortmund’s best player. In North American terms, it would be like the LA Lakers announcing they’ve signed LeBron James to a contract, before playing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Götze made his debut for Borussia back in 2009 and has been a catalyst in the team’s two league titles in the past three seasons.
There’s not much between the two teams. Having played each other three weeks before the final they know each others strengths and potential holes. Both have formidable strikers who love to score. Mario Mandzukic (BM) has 21 goals in 37 appearances this season while Robert Lewandowski (BR) is even deadlier in front of goal with 35 in 47 appearances.
Bayern have a slight edge, with a deeper midfield that loves to get forward and score goals. Their top five have netted 60 times. Bayern’s ability to push forward and get goals from anywhere on the field will prove to be too much firepower over the course of 90 minutes.
For English fans heading to Wembley to watch two German heavyweights do battle on their turf, goals will both be expected and demanded. There’s no better way to showcase the Bundesliga to those around the globe who think the English Premier League is the best in the world.Read More →