Record Bundesliga winners Bayern Munich last won the biggest prize in European football back in 2001, when they defeated Valencia 5-4 on penalties at the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium in Milan.
Nine years on and the Bavarians can legitimately dream of another UEFA Champions League title, despite a shaky start to this season. As recently as November 2009, Bayern were a lowly eighth in the league and looking as if they were on their way out of the Champions League as well.
Five months later and Bayern are in line for a league, cup and Champions League/European Cup treble which only five other teams have ever achieved: Celtic (1967), Ajax (1972), PSV Eindhoven (1988), Manchester United (1999) and Barcelona (2009).
Of course, for this dream to become a reality, they must first dispose of Lyon in the Champions League semi-final – the very same serial French league winners whom Bayern had to face in the second group stage in that 2001 season, winning 1-0 at home but slumping to a 3-0 defeat at Stade Gerland.
"Those were tough matches," recalled Ottmar Hitzfeld, who was Bayern coach at the time, in an interview with Bild. "They were tactically well versed and up for the fight. The 3-0 defeat was a low point, but it turned out to be a shot across the bows at the right time."
Chairman Franz Beckenbauer also raised a few eyebrows at the post-match meal, referring to Bayern Munich as "the team of the legendary Uwe Seeler". Seeler was indeed a legend in German football but no more so than Der Kaiser himself, who had chosen his words carefully in a thinly veiled criticism.
Lone 2001 link
There is only one current player on either side who was involved in the matches back in 2001, and his is not a face that Bayern will be looking forward to seeing again. French attacking midfielder Sidney Govou bagged a brace in the space of eight minutes early in the first half which set Lyon on the road to that comprehensive win over the eventual champions.
And now the two teams are set to square off for the seventh time – all of them in this competition, though this is the first time that they will have met in the knock-out stages. To date, the results could not have been more even, with two wins for Bayern, two for Lyon and two draws. Their paths crossed as recently as last season, with Bayern winning the group that the two teams were in thanks in part to a 1-1 draw at home and a 3-2 win in Lyon.
They have players who are quick enough to launch a counter attack and all of them are good dribblers. It's always tough to play against teams like that.
The French squad has changed somewhat over the intervening 12 months, with star striker Karim Benzema moving on to Real Madrid for €35 million, while some €80 million were spend on new recruits. "Lyon might not be right up with the best of them in Europe but they are experienced, tactically very strong and very well organised," said former France international Willy Sagnol, a full-back in the victorious Bayern team of 2001.
His analysis is confirmed by the fact that Lyon have qualified for the Champions League in each of the past ten seasons, compared with "only" nine times for Bayern. This however is their first ever semi-final, with coach Claude Puel's men having defeated the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid to get there this season.
History indicates future success
There is another parallel linking Bayern with the biggest prize in European club football. Back in 2001, they also defeated Manchester United in the quarter-final, squeezing through 3-2 on aggregate, and current Swiss coach Hitzfeld believes that this year's squad is playing better than his charges almost a decade ago. "I think that they are technically better. We had some very good players - Elber, [Mehmet] Scholl and [Stefan] Effenberg were exceptional – but [Arjen] Robben and [Franck] Ribery can work absolute magic."
Hitzfeld's 2010 counterpart at the helm of Bayern, Louis van Gaal, describes Lyon as a "very well organised, very aggressive and physically very strong team. They have players who are quick enough to launch a counter attack and all of them are good dribblers. It's always tough to play against teams like that."
The duel between the two perennial domestic powerhouses promises to be an absolute cracker and with only (theoretically) seven matches left this season – three in the league, the German Cup final and a possible three in the UEFA Champions League – Bayern can legitimately begin to dream. Although, after what happened in 1999, when they lost the final in the dying minutes to Manchester United, they will not be uncorking the champagne too early.
First of course, they must get through their semi-final, and only then can they start planning for the final in the Estadio Bernabeu. "Be it Milan or Madrid, the main thing is we get to Italy," a geographically challenged former German international once famously said. As far as Bayern are concerned, it is a case of 'Milan or Madrid – the main thing is we get to the final'...