The climax of European club football will be reached on Saturday evening, with the Nerazzurri and die Roten bidding to succeed Barcelona...
Kick Off: Saturday, May 22, 2010. 20:45 CET
Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
Both Inter and Bayern Munich have enjoyed a season of terrific domestic success, but as the two titanic clubs approach the final of the Champions League – the undoubted highlight of the European footballing calendar – both stand on the brink of a historic treble.
Unique achievement will not simply lay at the feet of the players of each squad. Coaches Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, who are student and mentor respectively, can both join an elite group of trainers who have guided two different teams to success in the most illustrious of club competitions. Put quite simply, history is on the line in Madrid, fittingly the city most closely associated with the European Cup.
Inter have been the dominant force in Serie A since the middle part of the 2000s, but despite supremacy in one of the continent’s toughest leagues, continental success has wholly eluded the Nerazzurri over the course of almost 50 years. Back-to-back European Cup victories in 1964 and 1965 are relics of a bygone age, and ‘the Big Eared Cup’ is desired more than any other at La Pinetina.
With the Serie A crown and the Coppa Italia already safely on display in Inter’s burgeoning trophy cabinet, all that remains to cap a phenomenal season is a win on Saturday.
The path to the final has not been easy for the Beneamata. Pitted against Barcelona in the group stages, Mourinho’s men needed a final day success over Rubin Kazan to see off the Russian champions and Dynamo Kyiv to claim the second qualifying berth from a potentially awkward pool.
It was in the knockout stages where Inter truly began to flourish. A reunion with former club Chelsea provided Mourinho with a chance to showcase the Italian side’s title-winning credentials, with a 2-1 home success followed up by a textbook 1-0 victory in London. CSKA Moscow provided stubborn but ultimately toothless opposition in the quarter-finals as the Nerazzurri recorded a couple of 1-0 victories, before a rematch with Barcelona.
After falling 1-0 down in the opening leg, it seemed a case of business as usual for the reigning champions, but Inter gritted their teeth and raised their level to claim a memorable 3-1 victory at San Siro. The second leg at Camp Nou proved to be a tactical masterclass from Mourinho and his Beneamata squad. Only in the closing stages of the match did Barca truly threaten to overturn the two goal deficit, but the Catalans’ brilliant attacking unit couldn’t fathom a method by which to break down ten-man Inter twice.
Having already led Porto to Champions League success in 2004, Mourinho stands potentially only 90 minutes shy of repeating the feat with Inter, quite possibly ending an eventful spell in Italy by claiming the club game’s crowning glory.
Slow Starters, Strong Finishers
The 2009-10 campaign hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Bayern Munich, but after settling down following a poor start to the campaign, FCB can justifiably approach Saturday’s final with genuine hope of success.
The early weeks of Bundesliga play suggested that die Roten may struggle to adapt to Louis van Gaal’s methods as the newly appointed boss presided over only five victories in the opening 13 games of the season.
Europe was proving to be equally hard on the Bavarians, who lost twice to Girondins de Bordeaux and travelled to face Juventus on matchday 6 of the group stage knowing that only a win or a high scoring draw would be enough to preserve their status in the continent’s biggest club competition. Having already shown some improvement domestically, the match on December 8 proved a watershed for FCB’s campaign as they recovered from 1-0 down to record a fantastic 4-1 success.
With Van Gaal’s side starting to pick up results regularly at home, they were ready to flourish abroad. A controversial goal from Miroslav Klose gave die Roten the edge over Fiorentina heading into the second leg of the round of 16 tie, but it took a miraculous strike from Arjen Robben in Florence to ultimately send the Germans through on the away goals rule.
Robben was the hero in the quarter-finals against Manchester United, thundering home a remarkable volley at Old Trafford to act as the differentiating factor in a see-saw tie. After only a couple of minutes of the first leg, Wayne Rooney had the Red Devils ahead, but Franck Ribery and Ivica Olic turned that tie late. When United moved into a 3-0 advantage in England the contest seemed over, but a red card to Rafael and a goal late in the first half set the scene for Dutch ace Robben to again intervene spectacularly as time ticked away.
By comparison, the semi-final against Olympique Lyonnais was a routine affair. The French side rarely looked in the same class as their opponents, and after winning the first leg 1-0 – Robben inevitably the scorer – Olic took centre stage at Stade Gerland by scoring a hat-trick in a 3-0 rout.
Oozing with confidence after picking up the Bundesliga a fortnight ago and the DFB Pokal last Saturday, Bayern aim to complete a remarkable hat-trick by defeating Inter and thereby claiming a fifth European crown; an achievement that would equal the efforts of Liverpool.
WON 1-0 (a) Siena (Serie A, May 16)
WON 4-3 (h) Chievo (Serie A, May 9)
WON 1-0 (n) Roma (Coppa Italia, May 5)
WON 2-0 (a) Lazio (Serie A, May 2)
LOST 1-0 (a) Barcelona (Champions League, April 28)
WON 4-0 (n) Werder Bremen (DFB Pokal, May 15)
WON 3-1 (a) Hertha (Bundesliga, May 8)
WON 3-1 (h) Bochum (Bundesliga, May 1)
WON 3-0 (a) Olympique Lyonnais (Champions League, April 27)
DREW 1-1 (a) Borussia Moenchengladbach (Bundesliga, April 24)
Davide Santon’s injury-plagued 2010 campaign will continue as the young full-back will miss out on a berth in Inter’s squad due to injury. Ivan Cordoba is doubtful, while Wesley Sneijder had to be replaced in the recent league encounter against Siena due to cramps, though the offensive midfielder is fully expected to feature on Saturday.
Thiago Motta is banned after being sent-off in Barcelona.
Jose Mourinho will likely deploy his squad in a 4-3-3 formation, with the major question being whether he selects mercurial youngster Mario Balotelli in attack, or plumps with Goran Pandev instead.
Probable Starting XI: Cesar; Maicon, Samuel, Lucio, Zanetti; Stankovic, Sneijder, Cambiasso; Eto’o, Milito, Pandev
There has been a great furore caused by the German club over Franck Ribery’s suspension, but after appeals to both UEFA and the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport), the ban has been upheld and the Frenchman won’t play any role. Instead, Hamit Altintop will likely feature on the left hand side of the midfield.
With no injury problems to speak of, coach Louis van Gaal will otherwise boast a full panel of players, with the only position in question seemingly the left-back role, where Holger Badstuber or the less experienced Diego Contento, who is more naturally gifted in that role, could feature.
Probable Starting XI: Butt; Lahm, Van Buyten, Demichelis, Badstuber; Robben, Schweinsteiger, Van Bommel, Altintop; Mueller, Olic
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Wesley Sneijder was on the books of Real Madrid 12 months ago. Shunted out the door of the Bernabeu to make way for a raft of signings designed to lead los Blancos to the Champions League, the 25-year-old Dutchman has instead powered Inter back to his former home ground, with los Merengues long eliminated. The attacking midfielder, who is 137th in the Castrol Rankings, has played a pivotal role in Inter’s campaign, with three crucial goals in the Beneamata’s European run to date. Dangerous from free kicks and with an ability to pick out seemingly impossible passes, he will have to be closely policed.
Arjen Robben, another player to be employed by Real Madrid only a year past, has acted as the talisman for his side’s progression deep into the Champions League. The Dutchman has shown an unerring eye for goal at crucial times, shouldering the burden of Franck Ribery’s frequently injury-enforced absences. With the Frenchman banned from Saturday’s fixture, the onus will once again be on the Bedum-born ace to come up with the offensive goods. At times this season the player rated 10 in the Castrol Rankings has been unplayable.
There can be little doubt that Inter have had to pick their way through the hardest sector of the draw, and to that end they should start the match as favourites. Though the match-up between Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal is fascinating, the Portuguese has the greater strength in depth to his squad, with Inter’s defensive nous likely to make the difference in a tactical affair.
Inter 2-0 Bayern Munich
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