It isn’t exactly the dawn of a new era, but neither is it the Spanish coronation that so many were expecting in this year’s Champions League final. Everyone assumed that the top two clubs from the country of the world champion would meet on May 19 on neutral soil in Germany. But instead of a matchup of La Liga titans, the Allianz Arena in Munich will host a partisan clash with a home-crowd flavor between one all-too-familiar team against England’s sixth-best club.
Chelsea were down to ten men soon after Busquets’ goal, captain John Terry sent off with a straight red card after he jammed his knee into Alexis Sanchez’s back away from the action nearly instantaneously after play restarted. Barcelona capitalized on Terry’s absence from the central defense to spring Iniesta for the goal that put them ahead on aggregate, and the flow of the game made it appear that many more goals were on the way at Camp Nou.
But then something strange happened. Stoppage time was winding down before halftime, and as fans rustled in the stands and got a jump on the break they avoided witnessing a heartbreaker. Threading a ball through, Frank Lampard found Ramires. The Brazilian flew through the Barça defense, lobbing the ball over Víctor Valdés and knotting things back up in the aggregate. Holding firm through a tense second half — if the score held, Chelsea was due to go through on the away-goals rule, prompting the onslaught from Pep Guardiola’s team — the Londoners gamely fought the Catalan advances.
Then something else strange happened — Fernando Torres, the one Spaniard who has seemed impervious to the residual glow of the World Cup victory, found himself clear with only Spanish teammate Valdés to beat. Wrong-footing the keeper, Torres slotted the ball into the empty net to completely silence the home crowd. Two stoppage-time goals for the visitors, two stakes in the hearts of the defending champions…
When Jose Mourinho took over at the Santiago Bernabéu, it was in hopes of reaching Champions League glory with yet another franchise. Two years ago, he was leading Inter Milan to its first European title since the 1960s. This time around he was hoping to lead Real Madrid to its tenth Champions League trophy. In both cases he locked wits with German powerhouse Bayern Munich… though the management in the two cases was rather different.
Two years ago it was Ottmar Hitzfeld who was at the helm of Bayern. This time around it was Jupp Heynckes — who, incidentally, led Real Madrid to their 1998 Champions League title over Juventus only after the team failed to secure the coaching services of Hitzfeld — who was leading the Bavarians against his old club. Up 2-1 after the first leg, Munich knew that it could not rest on its lead if it was going to return home to play one last Champions League match on its home turf.
Cristiano Ronaldo was hoping to build his hero’s credentials, scoring twice in the first quarter-hour of the match to put Real Madrid ahead 3-2 in aggregate scoring. His first goal, a penalty past Manuel Neuer after a handball in the box off a corner kick, expertly fooled the goalkeeper. His second, taking in a defense-splitting pass from Mesut Özil and driving low and firm past Neuer, was a vintage display of the Portuguese star’s finishing prowess. But a payback penalty kick in the 27th minute allowed Bayern Munich to pull level on both aggregate and away goals, and the two sides were left to fight another ninety minutes to no avail.
Penalties, thus, would decide the finalist opposite Chelsea. David Alaba — whose handball gave up Ronaldo’s first goal — converted first for Bayern. Ronaldo, following Alaba, could not do the same, Neuer nudging out the ball from the goalmouth to preserve a lead. The save deflated Real, and Bastian Schweinsteiger was soon kicking the deciding shot past Iker Casillas to send the visitors through.
So, instead of playing in their first Champions League final in a decade, Real Madrid will be sitting at home while Bayern Munich plays at home. Instead of playing to solidify their hold on dynastic status, Barcelona will instead see a Chelsea side they couldn’t defeat with an extra man play in Munich instead.
Bayern will become the first team since Roma in 1984 to play a Champions League final on home soil. They will hope to go one better and join the 1965 Inter Milan side and — who else?! — Real Madrid’s 1957 squad as the only teams to win the European championship on home turf. And it will be an English side instead of a Spanish one that hopes to prevent that history from being written…