Champions League final report 2013: Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Bayern Munich

Miguel Delaney, Wembley Stadium

A wait has ended, a weight is lifted and Bayern Munich thereby rise well above the rest of Europe.

Of that, there can be no argument. If the Champions League knock-out format only occasionally rewards the most rightful winner by accident rather than design, Bayern brutally eliminated any element of chance at Wembley. By the end of this groundshaking showdown with Borussia Dortmund, their utter dominance reflected their undisputed status as the continent’s best team. The 2-1 final score confirmed it.

Jupp Heynckes has now won two Champions League trophies as a manager, while Bayern have lifted five as a club.

The key question now is whether this is the first of many for this squad.

Because, as much as this victory proved the culmination of one period, it may prove the start of something else.

That is the potential effect of a cathartic moment like this. The relief was evident. The release, for everyone else, may be ominous.

Make no mistake. Had Bayern managed to lose this match, and to such a close rival, it could have created an even more neurotic complex about this competition for the club.

Consider the amount of anxieties and and troubling experiences that led up to Arjen Robben’s eventual winner.

At that exact point in the previous year’s final, Didier Drogba had scored the goal that sent Bayern’s match into a tailspin. That strike had been preceded by a series of misses which had been repeated in this game, not least from Robben himself.

As Neven Subotic desperately cleared Thomas Muller’s 71st-minute shot off the line just as the Dutch forward was ready to point, there seemed to be an element of destiny about it all; that Bayern would again be bound to punishing failure.

Instead, Robben made his own destiny by discarding so many difficult moments and memories and even having the poise to second-guess Roman Weidenfeller.

It illustrated remarkable mental fortitude, particularly after Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty had almost immediately cancelled out Mario Mandzukic’s scrambled opener.

“We didn’t resign ourselves to our fate,” Heynckes said afterwards. “We upped the ante and tried even harder. You’ve seen the result.”

We’ve also seen the numbers. The chastening experiences of previous campaigns were offset by the champion-making excess of this one. Bayern have broken virtually every record going in the Bundesliga to arrive at this point. In that, it marks a true completion. They were hardened by the harsh lessons of 2010 and 2012 but also lifted by the luscious excellence of 2012-13.

“I think in the whole history of the Bundesliga there has been no team that has played at such consistency, such a high level, 25 points clearing and winning the championship, breaking almost all the records in the Bundesliga. Today, we saw that my team was determined to win that match.”

That was the other impressive aspect. Bayern did not just overcome the endings of their last two Champions League finals, but also the beginning of this one. For the first half hour, it seemed like an excellently intense Dortmund were going to blow them away. Instead, Heynckes’s side held their nerve and gradually took hold of the game.

“To begin with, we didn’t quite find out feet and I have to pay a compliment to Dortmund,” Heynckes said. “They pressed forward, we didn’t find our rhythm and it was a difficult match for us but, before the breakthrough with Robben, we had two opportunities and after the break we took command of the game. I think it’s because of the second half we really deserved to win.”

It also defined the differences between the two sides. As Bayern increasingly came together, Dortmund started to come apart. The gaps in their make-up grew even larger, allowing the likes of Robben more and more space.

That also reflects the chasm that has developed between the two squads as a whole this season, and that is no accident. It has come about for two reasons.

One, it must be admitted, is Bayern’s immense workrate.

They did not just display drive but also application.

“From the outset of the season, we have been changing things, improving things, adapting things. We have a team spirit and ability to work together which I have never experienced in a championship.

“We’ve worked tremendously hard for it, especially in the training sessions, but also on psychology, on communication.”

There was also, however, the platform and power they enjoyed. Heynckes himself referenced the two key signings that effectively completed the team as a unit.

“[Javi] Martinez and Dante, players that have been bullseye successes.”

And, as respectful as the entire post-match atmosphere had been between both teams and the two managers, Heynckes couldn’t resist one big punch.

“We know [Mario] Goetze will be joining us and I don’t think [Robert] Lewandowski will be hanging about too much either.”

This, perhaps, is the real significance of this final. Had Dortmund won, it would have proven such a blow to Bayern that a true rivalry might have been fostered. Instead, they have only consolidated their singular dominance.

They don’t just have the resources; they don’t just have all the most important signings; they don’t just now have one of the best managers in Pep Guardiola.

They also have the belief and cathartic conquest that completes all of that.

Even Goetze will add another dimension to that attack.

It is frightening and may well see the Champions League retained for the first time since 1990. Now Bayern have finally banished their recent history, the rest of Europe suddenly has a lot of catching up to do – even Barcelona, who they so humbled en route to this final.

As a consequence, Robben’s goal represented the perfect ascension: an emotional last-minute winner to complete a commanding season that actually lifts the club above the Catalans in terms of European Cups won.

“I think of course FC Bayern next year will have to prove that can continue to do these things,” Heynckes said. “But I think it possible that a new era in Europe might have begin under the aegis of FC Bayern.”

It certainly felt like it on the night. Bayern themselves, meanwhile, finally felt like European champions.

***

The perfect season, the most perfect of endings.

Bayern Munich did not just confirm their undeniable status as Europe’s best team and bring an incredible campaign to crescendo. They also washed away away all the woe of the last few years. The relief and release were palpable.

Most notably, Arjen Robben overcome so much personal anguish. At almost the same point in the game that Didier Drogba scored last year to send the Munich final into such a tailspin and make the Dutch forward’s penalty miss so decisive, Robbencoolly slotted the winner. More impressively, it came after this final seemed to be following a similar course. You could have forgiven the number-11 for frantically fluffing that late chance given how poor his previous three one-on-ones his previous. Instead, he illustrated composure, character and outright craft to delicately put the ball the other side of the excellent Roman Weidenfeller.

It was cruel on the goalkeeper given how superbly he had performed throughout, barely slipping once. That in itself illustrated just how complete Bayern’s domination was by that point.

For Dortmund, this was no longer a fairytale. It was a grim test of endurance as their goal was increasingly pounded. Ultimately, it reflected the clear chasm that has grown between the sides.

As utterly exceptional as Dortmund can be when they are at their best, any drop-off will reveal the amount of gaps in that make-up. Too many times here, Robben was left in so much space in their half. In that sense, it perhaps made the winner as inevitable as it was innovative.

For that, though, Dortmund can perhaps also look to the opening half hour. While that saw so many of their finest attributes, it also created a franticness that ensured they overplayed too many attacks. It also left them without reward, as Bayern gradually rose to the challenge.

By the end of the half, Bayern were clearly in the ascendancy. They had survived the onslaught and were now surging forward. It perhaps illustrated that there is more to their game, more elements to their side. On the hour, Robben finally illustrated another element to his game as he squared for Mario Mandzukic instead of shooting. The Croatian gladly headed in the opener.

In fact, it was telling that Dortmund’s equaliser had to come from a reckless Dante challenge rather than a true moment of attacking quality. All their energy had seemed expended in the opening half. The irrepressible Ilkay Gundogan still had enough to slot home.

In truth, Dante should have been off the field by then for a second booking, while Franck Ribery also escaped appropriate punishment for an elbow. On Dortmund’s side, though, Lewandowski illustrated similar petulance on a disappointing night for him.

As Bayern struggled to finish, it seemed they needed a forward of the Pole’s calibre.

Instead, Robben showed the quality that has previously been missing on his biggest games.

Now, he’s provided one of the biggest goals in Bayern’;s history. They’ve won it five times. Jupp Heynckes has won it twice.

The question, for the squad as a whole, is whether this will be the first of many.

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Robben: vindication and victory

A version of this originally appeared on ESPN FC in May 2013

Soccer - UEFA Champions League Final - Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich

On the eve of the Champions League final, as Bayern Munich were getting accustomed to Wembley Stadium in their last training session, manager Jupp Heynckes decided to pull Arjen Robben to the side.

“Look Arjen,” the coach said. “You’re in really good form and tomorrow that is going to be one of the crucial factors.”

It’s the kind of exchange that is often instilled with greater importance only after the fact. Of course, Heynckes may have had a genuine feeling or tactical epiphany. On the other hand, it’s equally possible he was just trying to motivate one of his many players.

Then, there’s the reality that Robben reflects the history of this specific Bayern Munich team better than any other player; that, with sufficient ability and the right circumstances, your time will come sooner or later.

Up until that 88th-minute strike against Borussia Dortmund, after all, Robben had hit 24 shots in Champions League finals without reward. One of them was eventually going to count. Just as Bayern’s sheer resources were gradually going to condition conquest in this competition, Robben has too much quality to fail so completely.

Except, when you listen to his explanation of how the winning moment unfolded and what went through his mind, you realise how much those previous misses had honed the forward for a moment like this. This wasn’t fated, it was fashioned. Most impressively of all, it was clearly a goal borne of intellectual gymnastics rather than basic instinct. Robben reacted to Franck Ribery’s touch and had the presence of mind to register Roman Weidenfeller’s movement.

“When I got the ball, I was free,” Robben said in his post-match press conference. “I anticipated Franck’s movement. The only thought was ‘I hope he lets the ball there’ because I saw the space. I took it well. My first choice was actually to go past him [Weidenfeller] on the left side but then he made a move and I could put it on the other side. He was on the wrong leg.”

Finally, Robben had provided the right finish in a big game and Bayern had at last won that fifth Champions League. Although the Dutch forward later struggled to put the emotion into actual words, his jubilant face and uncontrollable reaction revealed enough.

“For a footballer, this is the greatest you can achieve. When the whistle of a referee blows and you know that you’re winners of a Champions League, for a lot of us it was the thing we really needed that we lacked in our lives.”

That is certainly true of this Bayern squad, not least the likes of Bastien Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. For Robben personally, though, it wasn’t just about this specific trophy. It clearly meant more to him than most.

It redefined his career.

That feeling grew with every missed chance. It became increasingly apparent that either Robben was going to have to finally score himself or some other Bayern player was going to have to spare him in order to prevent this match becoming another high-profile failure.

That 88th-minute strike, after all, wasn’t just preceded by the three opportunities he had squandered at Wembley on Saturday. There were also the penalty and chances missed against Chelsea in the 2012 final as well as the two crucial one-on-ones wasted against Spain in the 2010 World Cup final.

For all the important goals Robben had scored against Manchester United in the 2009-10 quarter-finals or Barcelona in this year’s last four, he hadn’t yet defined or decided a victorious campaign at the most exacting level. The Dutch forward himself admitted this was on his mind.

“After all the disappointment of last year I personally had, and let’s the say the World Cup – that’s three finals and you don’t want the stamp of loser. You don’t want that tag. At last we did it today and we can’t forget the other things.”

If it seems unfairly stark for an entire career to swing on an individual moment that is still susceptible to unpredictable bounces of the ball – regardless of the stakes – it is ultimately what remains in the memory. Robben has now provided one of the great clubs with a moment they will cherish forever.

The actual reality, beyond the reminiscences, is obviously more complex.

As illustrated by those games against United and Barcelona, as well as countless important domestic fixtures, Robben did produce in decisive games that had their own individual demands. The absence of that keynote performance, though, did reflect the general trajectory of the forward’s career.

He never really became the dominant world star his talent suggested when Alex Ferguson was so desperately pursuing him in the 2003-04 season. That was emphasised by the manner he was discarded by both Chelsea and Real Madrid, a player only intermittently hinted at brilliance rather than regularly provide it.

Now, with Ferguson there to present the man-of-the-match award that confirmed a crowning moment, Robben had proved himself a crucial player for the best side in Europe.

“I am particularly pleased for Arjen,” Heynckes said, “because we were all tragic figures, not just Arjen. Today he was so crucial. Today, for me, he played a very good game.”

No, Robben may not have ultimately made himself one of the greats. But he now has a great goal to cap an excellent career.