Saturday, May 25, 2013
10 things to know for the Champions League final
LONDON -- It's time for the biggest game in club soccer -- brought to you by Germany.
This year's Champions League final will be an all-German affair played out before a global TV audience, as Bayern Munich takes on Borussia Dortmund at London's Wembley Stadium.
Here are 10 things to know about Saturday's game:
1. WHY IS IT A BIG DEAL?
Well, this is the Super Bowl of club soccer and the highlight of the season for European fans. The Champions League pits the best teams from Europe's major leagues against each other every season, starting with a 32-team group stage before the top 16 clubs advance to the knockout rounds. The tournament began in 1955, originally known as the European Cup, before changing name in 1992 when it was expanded to include more teams. With no World Cup or European Championship on this summer, this is the biggest soccer game of the year.
2. GERMAN DOMINATION
Many had expected Spain to have two teams in the final after Barcelona and Real Madrid both made the semis. Instead, Bayern and Dortmund showed that this is the year of German domination, beating the Spanish powers convincingly over two legs. Bayern dismantled Lionel Messi's Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate, while Dortmund beat Madrid 4-1 at home before hanging on for a 4-3 aggregate victory.
3. KEEPING IT DOMESTIC IS RARE
While Germany has always been one of soccer's biggest powers, this is the first time the country has put two teams into the final of the Europe's top club competition. In fact, it's only the fourth time that two teams from the same country clash for the trophy. The last time it happened, Manchester United defeated English rival Chelsea on penalties in 2008. Milan got the better of Italian rival Juventus in 2003, and Madrid defeated Valencia in 2000 in what was the first final between teams from the same country.
4. BUT BOTH TEAMS HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE
In fact, Bayern is playing in its third Champions League final in four years, but is looking for its first title since 2001. The German team lost last year's final to Chelsea on penalties in its home stadium in Munich, and fell to Inter Milan in the 2010 title game. Dortmund has not made the final since 1997, when it won its only title in the competition.
5. WHICH TEAM IS THE FAVORITE?
Most people, including bookmakers, say Bayern. The Bavarian side desperately wants to erase the painful memories of losing last year's final in its own stadium, and has arguably been the best team in Europe all season. It obliterated the competition in the German league, where it finished a record 25 points ahead of second-place Dortmund, and its demolition of Barcelona was hugely impressive. But Dortmund certainly has a decent chance. The team won the previous two Bundesliga titles and is one of the few sides that can get under Bayern's skin. Both league games between the teams this season ended 1-1, and the last time they met in a final, Dortmund routed Bayern 5-2 to win last year's German Cup.
6. WHO ARE THE PLAYERS TO WATCH?
Both sides have a slew of star players capable of being the deciding factor. Bayern has the biggest wealth of talent, including the backbone of Germany's national team with players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Mueller. But the two biggest stars are French winger Franck Ribery and Dutch counterpart Arjen Robben. Either can decide the game in an instant.
Dortmund has decisive players too, like Germany international Marco Reus and Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored all four goals in the 4-1 win over Madrid in the semifinals. But rising star Mario Goetze, who is joining Bayern next season, is out with a hamstring injury.
7. WHO ARE THE COACHES?
Bayern is led by the experienced Jupp Heynckes, a former Germany striker who now prides himself on the team's staunch defensive ability. This will be his last chance to lead Bayern to the title, as Heynckes is leaving the club at the end of the season and has given strong hints he will retire. The 68-year-old coach already won the Champions League in 1998 with Real Madrid.
Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp, meanwhile, has drawn wide praise for leading his team to back-to-back domestic league titles with a young team that plays an exciting and attack-minded style of soccer. Should Dortmund win on Saturday, the 45-year-old "Kloppo" will be one of the most in-demand coaches in Europe.
8. WILL THIS BE ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE BORING NIL-NIL GAMES?
Chances of that are slim to none. These are two teams that both want to attack from the start of any game, and neither is likely to change its style for the big occasion. In contrast to Chelsea's defensive-minded tactics in last year's final, don't expect Dortmund to sit back and be content with protecting its own net. You're more likely to see end-to-end attacking play -- and probably plenty of goals.
9. WHY ARE RELATIONS STRAINED BETWEEN THE CLUBS?
These teams were already big rivals after regularly dueling it out for domestic titles over the last few seasons, but tempers have been frayed even further following Goetze's decision to join Bayern, which is paying 37 million euros for the star midfielder. Dortmund also faces the prospect of losing Lewandowski to its biggest rival.
10. SO WHO'S GOING TO WIN?
Judging by statistics, the team that scores the first goal. In this year's competition, 82 games have been won by the team that scores first, with only 15 come-from-behind victories.