FOX Soccer Exclusive
Bayern, Robben end Euro heartbreak
Arjen Robben is not the most likable man. He is selfish, he is petulant, and more than one critic has opined, he coasts through games. His late season form for Bayern Munich oddly coincided with the announcement that Mario Gotze was going to join the team. He seems to need motivation.
Robben’s also been awful in big games. Memorably, he was the goat of the UEFA Champions League final last season, having a last-minute penalty saved by Petr Cech. He has even been awful so often for Holland that the Dutch have a little Swiss dog with a keg on hand to go searching for him. He has one of the most predictable – yet deadly – moves in the game, but that touch seems to desert him at the tensest moments. For all his talent, he’s long been labeled a “bottler,” soccer-speak for what Americans call a choke-artist.
That all should change after Saturday night.
Robben, betraying no sign of anything but confidence, set up the first goal, then won the UEFA Champions League title for Bayern Munich 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund late in the second half. With a sublime bit of skill, Robben danced around Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels and Roman Weidenfeller with a minute remaining to score the match winner.
As he peeled off to the far corner, he left a dejected pile of Dortmund men in yellow. Eyes blazing and his head tilted back, he faced some of his fiercest critics – the Bayern end – and shouted. The glory was his.
Robben was the hero of a classic match, better than we had any right to wish. It was enthralling, as both sides played powerful possession soccer, and declined to play the cynical waiting game that so often infects major finals. It was open, with both keepers making critical saves. The few mistakes committed were left witheringly unpunished though. For once, we had a final that lived up to the billing.
Saturday night’s tempo was furious, the result of a decision made from the whistle by Dortmund to play a high, pressing game. Dortmund typically plays a high line, but in their previous meetings this season against Bayern had played a countering game preferring to hang back and pounce on mistakes. It hadn’t worked well, as Dortmund went winless in their last four games against their archrivals, and manager Jurgen Klopp ditched it.
In so doing, he set young Marco Reus free, and his interplay with Ilkay Gundogan early on set the tone for what became an enthralling match. Manuel Neuer was forced into making several early saves and Bayern only looked threatening when they were able to pop the ball over the backline, which wasn’t often. Javi Martinez, so critical to Bayern’s success, was neutered for most of the first half as Reus simply went through him.
But for all Dortmund’s flair, they could not sustain the tempo forever. After the break, Bayern’s patience and Robben’s guile came to the fore. Robben would later set up the first goal with an uncharacteristically unselfish pass, collecting from Franck Ribery, diving deep to draw out Weidenfeller, and then squaring Mario Mandzukic to poke home Bayern’s first goal on the hour mark.
Dortmund got back in it due to carelessness: Dante narrowly avoided being sent off when he rudely chopped down Reus to give Gundogan a spot-kick, which he sunk to the glee of the Yellow Wall. That touched off a furious 15 minutes that saw both teams with chances to win it, but none better than Robben’s sudden dropped shoulder, and roll into space.
The match also served as a powerful advertisement for the Bundesliga, putting the boot in to some of England’s less charitable hosts. The media in London had taken a little too much time to insert the Premier League into every conversation about this particular final. In the end, those hacks might have wished they’d never brought up their teams. Bayern and Dortmund would have played them out of the park. In the end, these were the two best teams in the world, and they showed it.
"First and foremost, congratulations to Bayern Munich because they won so it's not important to speak about what happened in the game," Dortmund manager Klopp told ITV1. "After the game you have to respect the result and that's what we do now."
Klopp added: "Bayern Munich had to fight too. We deserved to be in the final and we showed this tonight and the most important thing but it's important."
And you could see in the end what it meant to Robben. He danced up the steps to collect the trophy, mobbed by fans for once who were not calling for his head. He raised it high into the air as they chanted his name.
''This means a lot. I still have not grasped it,'' Robben said. ''There are so many emotions. It was very even. They had chances. We had chances. Then the last minute, I was quicker to the ball. I missed two chances before that, but I stayed calm.''
He had stolen them the European Cup.
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