The UEFA Champions League Final will be held on a Saturday evening for the first time in its history, and for the first time since 2004 there will be no British team involved. It’s Inter Milan (Italy) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany) at the Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain for the right to be crowned champions of Europe.
Inter Milan (Manager: Jose Mourinho)
The Special One has worked his magic again. After a group stage in which they needed a final round 2-0 win over Russia’s Rubin Kazan to qualify for the knockout stage and not head down to the Europa League, there was some uncertainty as to whether or not they would advance past Mourinho’s former team in Chelsea. Inter not only knocked off Chelsea in the round of 16, they defeated CSKA Moscow in the quarterfinals, and defending champions Barcelona in the semifinals to remove all doubt that they are one of Europe’s best.
Inter are looking for a Cup “treble”, having already won the Serie A and the Coppa Italia. They’ve gotten to the Final mainly because of their solid defense, allowing just 9 goals in 12 games. Argentine defender Javier Zanetti (who was left off the World Cup squad for reasons only Maradona knows) anchors this very tight wall, while Brazilian fullback Maicon ventures forward at every opportunity possible. He’s a solid in defense and dangerous when he looks to create chances or even score. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar has been his usual solid self.
The midfield is perhaps their strongest asset. Dutch star Wesley Sneijder is one of the most creative attacking midfielders in the game today. He has excellent passing skills and can unleash some masterful free kicks. Inter will miss Thiago Motta as he was sent off in the 2nd leg against Barcelona thanks to Sergio Busquets acting.
Diego Molito and Samuel Eto’o are the main strikers for Inter Milan. The Argentina Molito has scored once in every tie of the knockout stages while Eto’o of Cameroon ended Chelsea’s run with a great goal at Stamford Bridge. Italian Mario Balotelli is their other striking option.
This is a loaded squad with great depth and talented players. Jose Mourinho has an opportunity to win his 2nd Champions League Final.
Bayern Munich (Manager: Louis Van Gaal)
You could say fate has carried them here. A 4-1 romp over then-2nd Juventus got them to 2nd place and to the knockout round. From there another Italian team stood in their path in Fiorentina. In the first leg they controversially beat Fiorentina 2-1 when Ivica Olic scored a stoppage time winner. The problem is he was miles offside and the linesman somehow didn’t see. Heading to Italy for the return leg saw them fall behind 2-0 (3-2 on aggregate), then 3-1, before Arjen Robben’s incredible 30 yard shot flew into the net to make it 3-2. They lost the 2nd leg but advanced on the away goals tiebreaker. Next up? Manchester United.
I will make the Man Utd tie short and sweet since that leg just about decided the rest of our season. Wayne Rooney scores in Munich 61 seconds in, they don’t get a 2nd and Rooney ends the game injured and Bayern win 2-1 on a perfectly legal Olic goal in stoppage time. The return leg at Old Trafford saw Man Utd up 3-0 before Olic cut the lead to 3-1 at halftime. On aggregate it was 4-3 and Robben won it on away goals with a brilliant shot from the edge of the penalty area. Moving on now….
The semifinal match was a mismatch. French side Lyon were held to no goals in both ties and won 4-0 on aggregate. In the 2nd leg they won 3-0 in Lyon thanks to a hat trick from, you guessed it, Ivica Olic. They paid a price however when Franck Ribery was sent off in the 1st leg for a rash challenge. He has appealed to UEFA and has been denied. The French midfield magician will miss Saturday’s game.
A dramatic group stage rally, followed by away goal heroics from Arjen Robben, capped off by brilliance from Ivica Olic has got them in Madrid. They too are chasing a treble after winning the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal (German Cup).
Hans-Jorg Butt (heh heh) will be in goal for Bayern Munich and will be protected by a defensive line of Danijel Pranjic, Martin Demichelis, Daniel Van Buyten, and Phillipp Lahm.
Their midfield features team captain Mark Van Bommel, 2nd vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, and of course Arjen Robben. I’ve mentioned Ivica Olic so many times that I’ve forgotten that the German forwards Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez even exist.
Another very talented squad filled with excellent players.
Inter Milan hasn’t won the European Cup/Champions League since 1965. Bayern Munich hasn’t won since 2001. Someone’s drought will end on Saturday but I’m sure Inter are champing at the bit to end their Europe futility.
Prediction: Bayern have had a magical ride but they are not going to best The Special One. Inter’s defense is superior to a somewhat suspect Bayern Munich. They will shut down Ivica Olic, Miroslav Klose, Arjen Robben, etc. while pushing forward when necessary. I believe Bayern losing Ribery will hurt them more than Inter losing Motta. This will probably not be an entertaining game, but it won’t be dull either. Inter Milan 2 (Molito 33, 80) Bayern Munich 0
If things go to plan there will be a live blog of this game. Should be fun!