Tuesday 22 October 2019

Redemption for Robben as Bayern Munich claim Champions League

Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich celebrates after scoring his late winner
Arjen Robben of Bayern Munich celebrates after scoring his late winner

Daniel McDonnell in Wembley

IT was a surreal end to a thrilling Champions League final, a beautiful game settled by a route one goal with the glory belonging to a player and manager that are set to leave Bayern Munich this summer.

Arjen Robben settled the competition with one minute remaining, as legless Borussia Dortmund failed to cope with a hopeful punt towards the edge of their area. Franck Ribery teed up his team-mate, who dodged a posse of Dortmund defenders to apply the finishing touch and send Jupp Heynckes out on a high.

The former Chelsea winger is also expected to follow his boss out the exit door this summer with Pep Guardiola facing the prospect of taking over at the conclusion of the most memorable year in Bayern's history. If they collect the German Cup next weekend, they will be treble winners for the first time.

After the pain of their defeat to Chelsea 12 months ago, where Robben's profligacy was central to the plot, this was a sweet moment for Bayern.

They proved the more streetwise team here, with a Dortmund unit that kicked off in a dynamic manner that ties in with the personality of their charismatic supremo Jurgen Klopp surprisingly naive when it came down to the crunch.

Suggestions that the presence of two teams from the same league would dilute the final as a spectacle proved inaccurate. The supporters created a carnival atmosphere around the ground in the hours beforehand, with the Dortmund fans arriving early to make a serious din. When the game got underway, their team also appeared better prepared; the underdogs burst from the blocks with purpose and played the first 25 minutes at a tempo that Bayern Munich struggled to match.

With the spine of the team laying the foundations, the dovetailing of their forward players left Bayern in a spin with the movement of Marco Reus opening spaces and Polish pair Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski finding them. The latter threatened twice in the early exchanges, firstly shooting wide before he was denied by a brilliant Manuel Neuer save from an accurate Reus delivery. Sven Bender emerged from his more withdrawn midfield role to test Neuer before Reus stung the keeper's palms and then forced a foul from Bayern's Brazilian centre half Dante that prompted referee Nicola Rizzoli to reach into his pocket for a yellow card.

It was a period of dominance which Dortmund failed to make pay, yet the frenetic nature of the minutes before the interval weakened the hard luck story. Bayern emerged from the ropes and began to grab hold of possession and pull Dortmund out of shape to create the game's best chances. Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic – Ireland's nemesis at Euro 2012 – was inches away from converting a Ribery cross but Roman Weidenfeller's outstretched hand produced a wonder stop. Then, Thomas Müller broke and released Robben with a toepoke. Weidenfeller raced from his goal to narrow the angle and did enough to block the Dutchman's effort; Mandzukic was fuming that the option to square was passed up.

Dortmund were still dangerous, as evidenced by a Reus through ball for Lewandowski which was headed off at the pass by Neuer, but the red shirts were clearly sensing vulnerability and should have broken the deadlock in the last major incident of the half when the ponderous Mats Hummels was outfoxed by Robben, who was finding plenty of joy cutting in from the right. Alas, when presented with a one-on-one opportunity, he again fluffed his lines, shooting straight at the face of the Weidenfeller. The dazed netminder took a few seconds to gather his thoughts and the crowd of 86,298 needed most of the 15 minute interval to regain theirs as they ruminated over a breathless encounter.

The second half was a slower burner, and it was Bayern who found the spark before the hour mark. Robben was providing better support for Mandzukic, and breached the offside trap to collect an incisive Ribery pass, dance wide of Weidenfeller and cut the ball back for the Croatian to convert despite the desperate efforts of Schmelzer who had played Robben on in the first place.

Suddenly, the Bayern end of the ground was in control of the volume button, but their joy lasted for just eight minutes. The endeavour of Reus set the wheels for the Dortmund equaliser in motion, but the decisive intervention came from Dante's clumsy attempts to act as a roadblock with his kick into his opponent's midriff leaving Rizzoli with a straightforward decision to point to the spot; although he should have punished Dante with a second yellow. With impressive conviction, the skilful Turk Ilkay Gündogan sent Neuer the wrong way and restored parity.

The quickfire exchange set up a grandstand finish, with an increasingly scattered Dortmund defence adding to the thrills and spills. Müller almost restored Bayern's advantage immediately as he spotted an avenue for a direct run and skip around the over eager Weidenfeller with his subsequent goalbound shot heroically hacked off the line by Neven Subotic who reacted sharper than the watching Robben.

Bayern pressed again with Austrian left back David Alaba, another name which brings back bad memories for Irish fans, calling Weidenfeller into action with a long range thunderbolt, and Müller then claiming he was pulled back by Subotic before he left Mandzukic with too difficult an angle to find the target from another break that exposed Dortmund's frailties.

They were living on the edge. Robben stepped up to push them over it and claim the ultimate prize.

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer; Bender [Schieber 90], Gündogan; Blaszczykowski [Sahin 90], Reus, Grosskreutz; Lewandowski

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Martinez, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Müller, Ribery [Gustavo 90]; Mandzukic [Gomez 90]

Referee: Nicola Rizzoli [Italy]

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