The Santiago Bernabeu faithful may have been dreaming of a different line-up, but the city of Madrid can nonetheless look forward to a sparkling UEFA Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. The Germans have ruled Europe four times, most recently in 2001, while the Italians will be out for their third triumph and first since the golden era of legendary coach Helenio Herrera in 1965. The encounter will likewise provide the loftiest of stages for a reunion between two of this century’s most successful coaches in Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
How they qualified
- Bayern snatched second spot in Group A in the final round of games, thanks to an eye-catching 4-1 win away to Juventus. The Bundesliga outfit then just about sneaked past Fiorentina in the last 16, prevailing on away goals following a 2-1 home success and 3-2 away loss, and they repeated those scorelines in the quarter-finals after coming close to cracking against English champions Manchester United. Semi-final opponents Lyon were dealt with more comfortably, on the other hand, as Bayern triumphed 1-0 in Germany before winning 3-0 in France. They are the first finalists since AC Milan in 2003 to have lost four times along the way.
- Inter also finished runners-up in their section, trailing behind Barcelona in Group F. That was followed by a tactical masterstroke from Mourinho to defeat his old side Chelsea 1-0 in London in the wake of a 2-1 home-leg success, before a pair of 1-0 victories put paid to CSKA Moscow in the last eight. The semi-finals reunited I Nerazzurri with defending champions Barcelona, but this time Mourinho’s men came out on top, triumphing 3-1 at the San Siro and restricting the Catalan giants to a 1-0 win on home soil.
Strengths and weaknesses
- Bayern: With Franck Ribery suspended, Bayern are likely to look to Arjen Robben on the right flank to contribute his usual spark. Further forward, Ivica Olic has fired seven goals in the competition this term and will be eager to catch top scorer Lionel Messi, who has eight to his name. The Croatian is likely to be partnered by Thomas Muller, with solid duo Mark van Bommel and Bastian Schweinsteiger patrolling central midfield.
- Inter: Mourinho is expected to employ a 4-2-3-1 formation for the final, showcasing Diego Milito as sole striker. The Portuguese coach is nonetheless a past master at defying expectations and could opt for an attacking configuration boasting five forwards or two banks of four players, evoking the spirit of catenaccio.
Mourinho and Van Gaal know each other inside out after the junior of the two served as the latter's assistant at Barcelona from 1997 to 2000. There is plenty of mutual respect between the duo, even if they share very different philosophies of how the game should be played. As a disciple of fellow Dutchman Rinus Michels, Van Gaal favours the spectacular, having developed an attacking style reliant on talented wide players briefed with the task of stretching defences. In contrast, Mourinho has proved adept at instilling a team ethic where previously there had merely been a collection of individuals, and the tactical mastermind enjoys the total dedication of his troops.
Well-travelled Dutch pair Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben both arrived at Real Madrid in the summer of 2007, only to find themselves packing their bags again two years later. Sneijder headed to Inter and Robben to Bayern, and neither could have imagined they would now be facing each other in the Champions League final. Before they team up again for the Oranje cause at South Africa 2010, Sneijder and Robben will hope to have the final say on a pitch they know very well.
FIFA World Cup™ hopefuls
Inter can count upon a large percentage of the Brazil rearguard in the shape of goalkeeper Julio Cesar, centre-back Lucio and right-back Maicon, while further down the pitch they boast the talent of Sneijder, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o and Milito of Argentina. The latter's team-mates Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti will not be joining him in South Africa, however, after both were overlooked by Diego Maradona.
Six German internationals ply their trade in the Bayern ranks - Hans-Jorg Butt, Philipp Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose – with Oranje winger Robben handed responsibility for conjuring openings.
Whoever comes out on top will join Barcelona (2009), Manchester United (1999), PSV (1988), Ajax (1972) and Celtic (1967) as the only teams to have claimed Europe’s premier club prize as well as their domestic league and cup in the same season. Meanwhile, one of the two coaches will match the feats of Ottmar Hitzfeld and Ernst Happel by winning the competition with their second club, Mourinho having tasted glory with Porto in 2004 and Van Gaal with Ajax in 1995.
What they said
"Mourinho is like Helenio Herrera in his working methods, with the attention he gives to the slightest detail, how he prepares individual duels and his ability to transmit a sense of sacrifice to his players,” Massimo Moratti, Inter president.
"It’s not a match between me and Jose. We’re only comparable in terms of how we communicate with our squads. In everything else, we have a different approach to football. Mourinho wants just one thing: to always win. I try to give the spectators a pleasant style of play,” Louis van Gaal, Bayern coach.