By Cameron Dickinson Courtesy of The National Game
So it all comes down to this; 90 minutes of football between Inter Milan of Serie A and Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga will decide which side is Europe’s best.
There will even be English involvement as well, but not in the way you may think. Premier League referee Howard Webb is the lucky/unlucky man (depending on your view) who has been selected to take charge of club football’s biggest game. His performance will be scrutinized, evaluated and taken apart piece by piece, rather him than me.
Incredibly the Champions League trophy is not the only thing on the line for either side as both know victory on Saturday will cap an already successful season. Both have already secured their respective league titles and domestic cups meaning that we are guaranteed to see one side do a ‘Man United’ by winning the treble.
And it’s hard to argue that both don’t deserve their place in Europe’s showpiece as they have overcome years of underachievement on the continent to reach the final.
It seems every year at least one superstar is missing from one of the teams contesting the final and this year is no different as Frenchman Franck Ribery will be absent for Bayern after being sent off in the first leg of the semi-final against Lyon for a dangerously high tackle on Lisandro Lopez.
The winger was handed a three game ban for the offense and has had appeals to reduce the ban rejected by first UEFA and then the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
A statement from the CAS said: “The CAS Panel has dismissed the appeal and confirmed the three-game suspension imposed by the UEFA appeals body on the Bayern Munich player Franck Ribery. Accordingly, the player will not be eligible to play in the final of the 2010 Champions League.”
However Ribery is likely to be the only player missing for Louis van Gaal’s side, as he can boast no other injury problems, meaning that Hamit Altintop is clear to fill the void left by the French internationals absence.
Jose Mourinho’s Inter on the other hand have one of two selection problems ahead of their biggest game for years.
Young starlet Davide Santon looks to have lost his fitness battle to make the squad as continues to struggle with a long standing problem which has blighted his 2010 season. Further doubts are Columbian defender Ivan Cordoba and midfield maestro Wesley Sneijder both of whom have picked up knocks in recent league and cup games. Sneijder though still has a good chance of making the final after claims he was only taken off during the weekend’s game with Siena due to cramp and no anything more serious.
The Italians will also have to do without Brazilian Thiago Motta, who was sent off in the semi-finals against Barcelona.
Ones To Watch
It will be a battle of the Dutchman in this year’s final as Inter’s Sneijder and Bayern’s Arjen Robben do battle in midfield.
It has been a remarkable comeback for Sneijder who, just last year, was turfed out of Real Madrid to make way for the influx of new Galacticos. Under the tutelage of Mourinho at the San Siro the attacking midfielder has recaptured his best form, becoming one of the most feared opponents in Europe.
He has been instrumental in this season’s competition bagging three goals on route to the final, but he will be best remembered for a dominant display against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge where he managed to help stifle the threat of Frank Lampard whilst causing the home side’s creaking defense problems throughout the second leg.
Remarkably Robben was another player sold by Madrid last summer to flourish in a new, less intense environment. The former Chelsea man has been the key man in Munich’s march to the final, most notably scoring sensational goals against Fiorentina and Man United in the knockout stages.
During his time at Chelsea he was one of the most highly rated wingers in Europe and he appears to have rediscovered the form that made him so. If his side are to win this weekend then Robben will have to be on form, if he isn’t then they will struggle to breakdown Inter’s stubborn defence.
Another player who has improved dramatically this year is Bastian Schweinsteiger. A former winger, the German has found himself played more centrally this season alongside Mark van Bommel, and has developed into a tidy player. Allowed to play in a more advanced role alongside the defensive minded van Bommel, Schweinsteiger has found some of the best form of his still young career and he could be the wild cards for the Bundesliga holders.
There is not another right back in the world who can dominate a game like Inter’s Brazilian international Maicon. The former Monaco man is probably the best right back in the world and has been deservedly compared to Cafu for his tireless running up and down the flank. This coupled with superb attacking ability and defensive nous makes him the complete package and if he gets in to full flow then there will be no stopping him.
What The Managers Say
Everyone knows that Inter supremo Mourinho likes to speak his mind, no matter who he upsets, but he has been decidedly reserved in the build up to his second Champions League final as a boss, outlining just how tough it has been for his side this season and marveling at their achievements.
The former Porto man told Sky Sports: “This would be an incredible achievement because the level of competition is so high, and our road to the final was an incredible road.
“We got (in the group phase) Barcelona, European champions, Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev, champions of Russia and of Ukraine. After that we get Chelsea, after that we got CSKA, a little bit of fresh air in the middle of the storm.
“And after that we play Barcelona again and always playing the second game away from home, always. It was an incredibly difficult way to get to the final, which people sometimes forget.”
Bayern boss Van Gaal has been quick to point out that his side is still a work in progress, perhaps attempting to soften the blow of a potential defeat.
He told Sky Sports: “”I have never witnessed that such an overwhelming percentage of players believe in my philosophy,” said the Dutchman, who won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 before switching to Barcelona.This team can become even better. We have not yet reached our full potential.”
Neither manager appears to be willing to tempt fate ahead of such a crucial game and it is interesting to see just how reserved both have been when talking about the final over the past few weeks, something that is rarely seen from two managers who like to speak their mind.
The Final Countdown
This game has so much riding on it for the clubs and individuals involved. For both teams it is a chance to re-establish themselves as a powerhouse on the European stage by returning home as treble winners.
For Robben and Sneijder it is a chance to prove that Galacticos do not guarantee success and that Madrid were wrong for showing such little faith in them.
For Mourinho it is his chance to prove to the world that the first time with Porto was no fluke, while Van Gaal can show that he can still mix it with the best managers in the world, 15 years after he was last crowned a champion of Europe.
Indeed the stakes have never been higher in any Champions League final and the eyes of the world will be on the Santiago Bernabeu to see just who will triumph and reach the pinnacle of club football.
Cameron Dickinson is a writer for The National Game . His column appears on The Soccer Guys Courtesy of the National Game.