UEFA Champions League – Final Preview
The UEFA Champions League final will be played on a Saturday night for the first time in the competition’s history this year when Internazionale FC and FC Bayern München fight it out not just for continental glory but to complete the third and final leg of a Treble winning season. Italian champions Inter have won both league and cup honours domestically ahead of the tough challenge of AS Roma whilst FC Bayern managed to stave off the threat of FC Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga and thrashed Werder Bremen 4-0 in the cup final last weekend in Berlin. The game will also have another edge to it as the teams are fighting it out to allow their country the right to have four places in the UEFA Champions League from the 2011-12 season. Italy currently has that right but a win for FC Bayern would mean that Germany takes Italy’s place in the top three of UEFA’s Co-Efficient table which determines European placings. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” looks back at how both teams reached the final:
INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy)
Group Stage (FC Barcelona 6 games/11 points; Internazionale 6/9; Rubin Kazan 6/6; Dynamo Kyiv 6/5)
Internazionale’s group stage campaign got off to a quiet start when Jose Mourinho’s troops were involved in a Matchday 1 goalless stalemate against defending European champions FC Barcelona. Matchday 2 saw another game fail to be decided as Dejan Stanković cancelled out Alejandro Domínguez’s 11th minute opener to ensure a draw for the Nerazzurri against Russian champions Rubin Kazan. A third consecutive draw followed against Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kyiv as Inter came from behind twice to earn a 2-2 draw. Finally the first win came on Matchday 4 in dramatic fashion as Andriy Shevchenko’s goal for Dynamo was overturned in the final four minutes of the game with goals in quick succession from Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder. A trip to the Camp Nou cauldron awaited on Matchday 5 and the Italians were disappointing in their 2-0 defeat to the Catalans which meant that progression to the Round of 16 was hanging by a thread going into their final group game at home to Rubin. However goals from Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli gave Inter the three points which meant second place in the group and a tough encounter with Mourinho’s old club Chelsea FC.
Round of 16 (v Chelsea FC 3-1 on aggregate)
Inter had failed in each of the previous two campaigns to progress from this stage of the tournament against English opposition and weren’t going to make it three in a row. In the first leg, played at San Siro, a tough contest was ultimately decided by an Esteban Cambiasso strike to give Inter a slender one goal advantage to take to London as the Italian champions won 2-1. For the second leg all the attention turned to coach Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge but it was Samuel Eto’o who would grab all the headlines as he scored the only goal of the second leg late on to allow Inter to advance to the quarter-finals with a 3-1 aggregate victory.
Quarter-Final (v CSKA Moscow 2-0 on aggregate)
CSKA Moscow had done well to reach the quarter-finals having qualified in second place from Manchester United’s group as well as defeating Sevilla in the Round of 16. Sadly for the Russian side their adventure would end in the last eight as a pair of 1-0 victories were enough for Inter to go through. The first leg was decided by Diego Milito whilst Wesley Sneijder was the goal hero in the return leg. The 2-0 aggregate victory gave Inter a dream semi-final and, more importantly for Mourinho, the chance to get one over FC Barcelona.
Semi-Final (v FC Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate)
Jose Mourinho once again took the plaudits as he learnt the lessons of defeat during the group stage and knocked-out tournament favourites FC Barcelona. Mourinho’s claim that the Catalans, where he once famously worked as Sir Bobby Robson’s interpreter, were “obsessed with [winning in] Madrid” was used as a psychological ploy to get at his opponents. The first leg saw Inter come from behind to claim a 3-1 first leg adavantage. The return leg saw an early setback when Thiago Motta was sent-off for raising his arm on Sergio Busquets who clearly went down too easily. Despite Gerard Piqué’s cool finish in the 84th minute Inter were able to survive any further Barça attacks to go through to their first European final since winning the UEFA Cup in 1998 and will hope to bury 45 years of hurt by winning a third European Cup.
FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany)
Group Stage (FC Girondins 6 games/16 points; FC Bayern 6/10; Juventus FC 6/8; Maccabi Haifa 6/0)
FC Bayern eventually squeezed through this group but it started off comfortably enough with an easy 3-0 win over Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa on Matchday 1 with Daniel Van Buyten and a double strike from Thomas Müller proving the difference. A goalless draw at home to Juventus FC was not what the Bayern fans expected after the opening game but that was what they got and it got worse for the Bavarians as they suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of French champions FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The pressure was on coach Louis Van Gaal to get the team into the Round of 16 and, in order to do that, he had to win both remaining group games. Matchday 5 settled Bayern nerves even if they were far from convincing in beating group whipping boys Maccabi Haifa by an Ivica Olić goal to nil. Matchday 6, however, was when Van Gaal’s men showed their mettle by going to Turin and coming from behind to defeat Juventus 4-1 thanks to goals from (goalkeeper) Hans-Jörg Butt, Ivica Olić, Mario Gómez and Anatoliy Tymoschuk.
Round of 16 (v AC Fiorentina 4-4 on aggregate – FC Bayern win on away goals)
There were two exciting ties in the Round of 16 clash between FC Bayern and their Italian opponents with Arjen Robben proving a crucial influence in both legs. He scored the goal to give Bayern the lead in the first leg but Fiorentina equalized early in the second half thanks to Per Krøldrup. A controversial Miroslav Klose winner in the last minute allowed the German Rekordmeister to take a 2-1 advantage to Florence but they were soon playing catch-up in the return leg. The Viola were two goals up early in the second half before the aggregate score was level through Mark Van Bommel in the 60th minute. Stevan Jovetić scored again on the 64th minute to restore Fiorentina’s lead but Italian hearts were broken by Arjen Robben whose beautifully curled strike sixty seconds later gave FC Bayern the away goals advantage from which they would qualify to meet Manchester United.
Quarter-Finals (v Manchester United 4-4 on aggregate – FC Bayern win on away goals)
In what was a pulsating contest FC Bayern qualified for the semi-finals in the same manner from which they got through the Round of 16. In the first leg at Allianz Arena Wayne Rooney’s second minute opener for United was cancelled out by Franck Ribéry in the 77th minute. Just as it looked like United would go to the return leg the most satisfied Ivica Olić capitalized on a very late defensive lapse from the English champions to secure a 2-1 win to take to Manchester. The second leg proved every bit, if not more, dramatic as United were cruising after 40 minutes having taken a 3-0 lead on the night. Ivica Olić’s goal late in the first half gave FC Bayern hope of staying in the game and their chances were helped when United’s Rafael was sent-off. With fourteen minutes to go a corner found its way on to Arjen Robben’s left foot and he struck with great aplomb into the bottom corner to secure yet another away goals victory and a semi-final date with seven times French champions Olympique Lyonnais.
Semi-Finals (v Olympique Lyonnais 4-0 on aggregate)
Arjen Robben and Ivica Olić again proved the decisive figures for FC Bayern as they eased their way into the final with a healthy 4-0 aggregate win over a disappointing Olympique Lyonnais. Dutch wizard Robben scored the only goal in the first leg when he struck again from distance to give die Roten a slender first leg advantage. The second leg proved much more comfortable with Croatian Olić scoring all three goals to give the Bavarians a safe passage through to their first UEFA Champions League final since their last triumph in the competition in 2000-01.