Robben gets redemption as Bayern Munich wins Champions League
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Bayern Munich's 2-1 win against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final on Saturday ...
• Arjen Robben, a winger but always in the center of things. We saw by turns the worst, the best, the worst and finally the best again of the brilliant Dutch midfielder. It is ever thus with Robben. In the first half, he had golden chances on two occasions but failed to convert as Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller stoned Robben twice, bringing back memories of similar Robben chances in the 2010 World Cup final.
"It's 2010 again," said his former Dutch teammate Marc van Bommel, who was sitting next to me in the stadium.
Robben had another poor moment in the second half, failing to hustle to finish the ball that Dortmund defender Neven Subotic cleared off the line, but two amazing Robben plays will be the ones we remember: his pass (we'll call it a pass) to Mario Mandzukic for Bayern's first goal, and then Robben's 89th-minute game-winner, jinking into the box and hitting a left-footed dink (always the left foot) past the valiant Weidenfeller. That, my friends, is the image that Robben and Bayern fans will always have from the 2013 Champions League final.
• The level of play in this game was top-notch. Let's start with the goalkeepers, who were both sensational. The raw stats will say that Bayern's Manuel Neuer had seven saves and Dortmund's Weidenfeller had six, but they don't do justice to the impact they had on the game. Both men made sterling stops on their lines. Both men had impeccable timing to come off their lines and avert clear scoring chances by some of the world's best attackers.
The pace of the final was frenetic from the start, yet somehow the players kept pushing in an unforgettable second half. Subotic's sprawling clearance of Thomas Müller's shot from the line will go down as one of the best I've ever seen, and Dortmund deserved its goal after the dangerous Marco Reus was taken down in the box by Dante (who probably deserved a second yellow on the play). But perhaps the biggest credit for Bayern should go to Franck Ribéry, whose back-heel was the creative spark on Robben's game-winner and whose work helped lead Bayern's first goal as well. What a pair of wingers this Bayern team is lucky to have.
• This Bayern team deserves a place in history. If you're ranking remarkable single seasons, the 2012-13 Bayern side has to be viewed as one of the best European outfits of the past 25 years. Think about it: Bayern won the Bundesliga by an astonishing 25 points over second-place Dortmund, posting a 98-18 goal differential. Bayern rampaged through the Champions League, outscoring Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the semifinals and Italian champion Juventus 4-0 in the quarterfinals before finally winning in the final after losing at this stage in two of the previous three years. The German Cup final against Stuttgart awaits Saturday, but even if Bayern doesn't win the treble you have to look at its sheer domination this season and marvel.
To be viewed as one of the great teams of all time, however, Bayern will have to be the best in Europe for more than one season, and that is now the fascinating challenge facing new manager Pep Guardiola when he takes over next season. Guardiola has already done it once with Barcelona. Can he take this amazing Bayern team to even greater heights?