En route to Spain on Tuesday, I was in the air heading north during the Barcelona - Chelsea tie. Landing in Philadelphia, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see the Blues had gone through; setting up the final match that no one outside of London or Munich wanted to see happen. Now it was la Bestia Negra's turn to do their part.
Unfortunately, Read Madrid had other ideas. Manuel Neuer scooped the ball out of his net twice in the first 15 minutes of the match. Cristiano Ronaldo slotted home a penalty on six minutes; a dodgy call when David Alaba had slipped in the box and Angel di Maria shot straight at his hand. And then Ronaldo netted again from ten yards out a few minutes later.
The 2-0 score after such a short span of time had me thinking about the return leg at Manchester United in the 2010 campaign. Down 2-0 there in seven minutes and eventually 3-0 before the end of the first half, I was fairly confident if we could pull one back before the break, all would be well in the world of Bayern Munich. We did. And it was.
And the confidence bore fruit again in Spain as Arjen Robben indeed pulled one back, netting a penalty against Casillas in the 27th minute, after Pepe had pushed Mario Gomez in the box. Nice to see the Dutchman score the penalty after his horrendous miss against Borussia Dortmund a couple weeks back, effectively handing BvB the Bundesliga title.
After the break, both Bayern and Madrid settled down and got defensive, neither team willing to press forward too much, not willing to make the crucial mistake that would send their opponents to Munich. The match continued in that vein through both periods of extra time, with Victor Kassai whistling the end of 120 minutes, and a penalty shoot-out. Elfmeterschiessen.
For fans of both squads, the shoot-out is an excruciating way to end a match. It's kind of like a car wreck: You want to look away but you just can't. But, for all the neutrals around the world, there is no better drama. And such high drama it was! The two best goalkeepers in the world, marauding scorers, huge football names, and everything on the line.
Bayern sent 19-year-old Austrian international David Alaba to the spot first. Knowing he would miss the final, he shone one last time, beating Iker low and right.
Neuer stepped in front of goal to face Cristiano Ronaldo. After the Portuguese international had scored a penalty earlier in the first half, this time Manuel got it right, saving to the right.
Mario Gomez came up next for Bayern, sending Casillas the wrong way. 2-0 to Munich.
Brazilian Kaka was the next Madrid player to find himself in front of Neuer. Neuer once again dove right, pushing Kaka's strike past the post.
Toni Kroos could have been the hero, but Casillas guessed correctly, saving the German international's shot.
Xabi Alonso stepped up next, crushing one past Neuer. Bayern 2 - 1 Real Madrid.
Captain Philipp Lahm shot weakly, saved by Casillas. Still 2-1 to Bayern.
Sergio Ramos stepped up and skyed a ball to Mars. Rummenigge would say later that Neuer saved that one with his eyes.
We all know what happened next. Bastian Schweinsteiger said afterwards that he lost his b___s walking from midfield to the spot. And then he put the ball down and found his again.
And, 3,999 fans plus me celebrated long in to the night.
A classy move by Jose Mourinho, who only moments before was literally brought to his knees, saw the Portuguese coach in the Bayern dressing room, personally congratulating every single Bayern player and staff member. It's a very big gesture after such crushing disappointment. However, he can still console himself with the La Liga title after finishing off Barcelona over the weekend.
As the old adage goes: You have to beat the best to be the best. And Chelsea, along with Bayern Munich, have done just that. Both taking down what most everyone would consider the two best teams in the world; setting up an improbable, but beautiful final.
"We go into this final with great enthusiasm, great momentum and great pride. We'll try and succeed where we unfortunately came up short two years ago, here in Madrid. That's why it's doubly pleasing that we've made it to the final right here, in the same place.”
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge? I couldn't have said it any better myself.
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