Tuesday 12 December 2017

Robben fires the final shot of an old era and first of the new

Borussia Dortmund 1 Bayern Munich 2

Head coach Jupp Heynckes is thrown into the air by Bayern Munich players after winning the UEFA Champions League final last night.
Head coach Jupp Heynckes is thrown into the air by Bayern Munich players after winning the UEFA Champions League final last night.

Dion Fanning

Bayern Munich began their domination of Europe at Wembley last night. A team that has lost two of the last three finals can be said to have given plenty of warning signs, but when Arjen Robben skipped through an exhausted Borussia Dortmund defence two minutes from time, the club finally had their fifth European Cup.

Perhaps Pep Guardiola's mission when he arrives this summer will be to win it better. Jupp Heynckes won the European Cup for Real Madrid in 1998 and was fired. He leaves Bayern having won the trophy they last claimed in 2001 and which has caused them a lot of misery since.

Bayern were expected to win, but not like this. Even when the man who scored twice against Ireland for Croatia last summer, Mario Mandzukic, opened the scoring after an hour, the spirit of Jurgen Klopp's remarkable Dortmund side ensured the game wouldn't be over.

Within eight minutes, Dortmund had equalised through an Ilkay Gündogan penalty but they soon began to look exhausted.

All they had left when Robben burst through the defence was hope and there was some of that. Robben had missed a bunch of chances in the first half and appeared to be reverting to cup-final type. He had played in the last two finals that Bayern lost but, in the end, he ensured he wouldn't play in a third.

In that moment, it looked like there was nothing for Dortmund but if their team collapsed, their remarkable support continued to back their side.

On Friday evening, Klopp had spoken prophetically of what his side had to do. "We always have to do more. Over the past two years, we've always had to do more than Bayern Munich."

Bayern might have engaged in asset-stripping before the game, but on the field they were confused in the first half an hour as Dortmund went about them, disrupting their rhythm but crucially, despite a series of chances, failing to score.

At half-time, their only consolation would have been that Bayern, Robben in particular, had missed even better chances and those misses would be accompanied by a terrible foreboding that it was all going to happen again.

Dortmund's dominance was heralded pre-match by their supporters and was ended only by the strange opening ceremony which imagined the game as a medieval battle and concluded with Paul Breitner and Lars Ricken, who scored Dortmund's opening goal in the 1997 final, bringing out the cup dressed in medieval uniform. It could have been worse: two other men had been dressed as a horse.

Bayern had four players in their starting line-up who had played in both losing finals in the past three years. They had motive and, in their side which Thomas Mueller claimed had no weaknesses, they had means.

For half an hour, Dortmund looked like the side without weaknesses as Gündogan prompted from midfield and Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski interchanged while Robert Lewandowski prowled.

Manuel Neuer was the key Bayern player in this spell, making a series of saves which demonstrated his range of abilities but also, ominously for Dortmund, showed that Klopp's side could miss in many different ways.

Lewandowski shot from long distance, Blaszczykowski shot from point-blank range and Neuer kept them out. At the centre of everything was Reus who was aware of everyone as he glided across Wembley with his back straight and his head raised in search of the right pass. When the time was right, Neuer saved from him too.

The intense spell was broken when the referee got in the way of a Dortmund move. They defended the Bayern break but Lewandowski then fouled Franck Ribery, who crossed from the left and Mandzukic's header was tipped onto the bar by Roman Weidenfeller. Javi Martinez headed the corner over. Bayern's game changed.

Dortmund suddenly looked more open. Robben experimented with ways of missing as the chances continued to fall to him. He shot too close to Weidenfeller, stumbled when through and, finally, with some exasperation after he had got the better of Mats Hummels, shot into the goalkeeper's face.

Before the half ended, Dortmund had their best chance after David Alaba was caught in possession and Sven Bender and Reus combined to get the ball to Lewandowski. He turned Jerome Boateng easily but Neuer moved out swiftly as Lewandowski closed in and smothered the opportunity.

When Dortmund reflect, they will think about those moments.

The second half was more open but it was mainly Dortmund who were open as Thomas Müller ran and ran and Bayern punished the astonishing gaps between Hummels and Neven Subotic. Müller may be the last of the old German footballers. Technically limited, but with an endless heart, he continued to run and encourage the others.

After an hour the goal came and it was the less spirited Robben and Ribery who combined as they would again at the end.

Robben was just onside when Ribery played the ball through. On his left foot, Robben was a threat and Roman Weidenfeller came running out which made Robben's mind up. He crossed and Marcel Schmelzer, heading towards goal, couldn't react and Mandzukic had an easy finish.

Bayern had eight minutes to celebrate before Dante then had a wild kick into Reus's stomach which should have brought a second yellow. Dortmund at least had the penalty which Gundogan finished.

But it soon became clear that the recovery was all that Dortmund had in them. Bayern's chances kept coming. Müller broke the shattered offside trap and Neven Subotic had to hook his shot off the line with Robben rushing in. Weidenfeller, who had been stranded in that moment, then parried a 30-yard David Alaba shot wide.

Dortmund were hanging on and in the 89th minute, Robben showed how vulnerable they were. Ribery flicked the ball into his path from a hopeful punt and the combination left the defence lunging helplessly.

Robben didn't have much to do but, considering his history, he had everything to do. He took the opportunity to transform his past. He won the European Cup which may transform Bayern Munich's future.

Irish Independent

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