European Football

Franck-man and Robben are no jokers as the Bundesliga puts on a show

Bayern Munich 2 Borussia Dortmund 1. The result won’t startle many people, but what might surprise was that the 2013 UEFA Champions League final was an excellent spectacle.

London was awash with Germans: on the tube; in the bars; at railway terminals; and doubtless at the airports. Dortmund scarves seemed to proliferate every corner of the capital. And they were good humoured scarf-wearers, keen to show England that German football is an excellent product – as if we needed to be told.

The game represented a beginning and an end. The start of Bayern Munich’s ascendancy at the summit – which may last longer than people think – and possibly the end of Dortmund’s vibrant young side that according to one newspaper, resembled an over-achieving boy-band.

It was a close-run thing, the winning goal with a minute remaining depriving the watching neutral of an extra half-hour of riveting stuff. Bayern survived Dortmund’s first-half effervescence to gradually work their way into a commanding position and then, right at the death, nicking victory.

That sort of “smash and grab” is in Bayern’s DNA. When they last stood astride the continent, winning three European Cups on the bounce, two – in 1975 and 1976 – were won after soaking up the energy of their opponents. For Leeds United and St. Ettiene, now read Dortmund.

But it could have been so different if Dortmund had not come up against Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal. He pulled off good saves from Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski and pushed aside a shot on the run from the impressive Marco Reus to keep Bayern on level terms when it looked as though Dortmund might spring a shock result.

Dortmund’s fans may have felt that Franck Ribery – a man you wouldn’t want to bump into on a dark night in Munich – and Arjen Robben, were lucky to remain on the pitch for some rough-arm tactics, but to be fair Dortmund were no angels either. By half-time, though, Bayern had crept ahead of the yellow and black shirts and you felt that Dortmund had not made the best of their chance.

You only have to look at Bayern’s last Bundesliga game to know that this is a team that has the ability to steam-roller opponents despite giving them the occasional head-start. Moenchengladbach went 2-0 and 3-1 up against Bayern last week but a Ribery-inspired performance ended with the champions winning 4-3. So a goalless first half after testing Juup Heynckes’ men for a good half-hour was tempting fate.

Ribery and Robben, the men they love to hate, combined to create Bayern’s opener on the hour for Mario Mandzukic, but eight minutes later, Dante brought down Reus for a penalty that should perhaps have seen the 70s hair-style walk to the tunnel. Ilkay Gundogen scored from the spot to make it 1-1, the score the last time the two clubs met in Bundesliga action.

Dortmund’s defence flirted with danger in the closing stages, but a spectacular goalline clearance from Neven Subotic prevented Thomas Mueller’s shot from rolling into the net. It looked like extra-time until a free kick from Jerome Boateng was back-heeled by Ribery and Robben nipped in, shaped to get it on his left foot and clumsily prodded the ball wide of Weidenfeller. Robben, who was slated for his tepid performance a year ago in the final, clearly felt vindicated and celebrated in similar fashion to Stuart Pearce when he wiped away six years of hurt and scored a penalty-winner against Spain in Euro 96.

There was only added time to save the day for Juergen Klopp’s side. If the rumours are true, a number of them will be plying their trade elsewhere, possibly Munich.

It was interesting to see the maternal behaviour of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she consoled the Dortmund youngsters while Michel Platini stood grimacing with his top button undone and UEFA tie skewed.  And then there was the Bayern Munich politburo, who after sitting poker-faced for much of the game, allowed themselves a smile.

In a season of absolute triumph, Bayern may win a treble (they face VFB Stuttgart next week in the German cup final in Berlin) and with money and Guardiola on the horizon, they will be even stronger next season. That is a frightening prospect for the Bundesliga as well as Europe’s crème de la crème.

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