Inter Milan coach José Mourinho says the Champions League Final is bigger than the World Cup. His team plays Louis van Gaal's Bayern Munich in the final at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on 22nd May, the first Champions League final to be held on a Saturday night. Referee for the match will be England's Howard Webb.
Whilst it may not be the Champions League final many had hoped for, it is nonetheless true that the meeting of Inter Milan and Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu will see two of Europe’s in form teams go head to head. These two evenly matched teams have fought through some very tough encounters to get to the final and its fair to say that Saturday’s final promises to be a very tight, but potentially very exciting tie.
And to add to the excitement, the side that wins the Champions League final would be the proud winners of a treble, with van Gaal's Bayern having won the Bundesliga and the Deustcher Pokal whereas Inter have won the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia.
Their meeting reunites Inter coach José Mourinho with the man from whom he learned so much when assistant to Van Gaal at the Camp Nou over a decade ago. Both hope to add the European crown to the domestic doubles they have already claimed this season and in the process join Ottmar Hitzfeld and Ernst Happel as the only coaches to have won the competition with different clubs.
With star Frenchman Franck Ribery suspended and out of the finals, van Gaal will have to rely on the skill of rejuevenated Dutch winger Arjen Robben. As an attacking force, the Bundesliga side will take some stopping. With the likes of Thomas Muller, Ivica Olic, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez pushing forward, Mourinho’s back line will have to be as solid as ever to keep a clean sheet.
However, Inter Milan have more than a few options of their own to unlock the Munich defence. Strike pairing Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito are arguably one of the most deadly duos in European football and have managed 44 goals between them this season.
The San Siro outfit also have a former Real Madrid benchwarmer well on the way back to firing on all cylinders. Wesley Sneijder, like Robben, has found a new lease of life away from the Bernabeu and both former Real Madrid men will greatly like to prove what they are capable of in the stadium where they both saw their careers stutter.
Road to the Finals
German league champions Bayern Munich had a fairly comfortable semi-final against Olympique Lyon, winning 1-0 at home and then 3-0 away. Their quarter final clash against Manchester United was much harder. After winning 2-1 at home they found themselves trailing 3-0 at Old Trafford, but pulled it back to 3-2 to win on away goals. The away goals rule was also needed for them to beat Fiorentina in the previous round and the Bavarians won with a similar scoreline.
Inter Milan took the biggest scalp of the tournament by beating the holders FC Barcelona in the semi-final. Depsite losing the second leg in Catalonia 1-0, it was not enough to cancel out the 3-1 home advantage. Wins of 2-1 at home and 1-0 away saw Inter Milan through the round of 16 against Chelsea. Inter also won both legs with scorelines of 1-0 at home as well as away in the quarterfinal round tie against CSKA Moscow.
Bayern Munich and Inter Milan have met four times before, the most recent being in 2006 during the Champions League group stages. They drew 1-1 in Munich after BayernMunich had won 2-0 in Milan. The other two games were in a two-legged third roundUEFA Cup tie in 1988. Inter led 2-0 after the Munich tie but Bayern went through on away goals after winning 3-1 in Milan.
Rankings at stake
There's more to the Champions League final than simply Inter Milan vs. Bayern Munich. The game will also decide the future of Italian and German club football in the top European competition.
If Bayern wins, Germany will get a fourth entry in the Champions League starting in 2011-12 and Italy's entries will be reduced from four to three.
"Inter needs to win for the good of Italian football," said AC Milan vice president Adriano Galliani, in a rare gesture of support for the city rival.
Under Uefa's complicated ranking system, Italy enters the final with just a 0.155-point lead over Germany.
-If Inter wins: Italy will retain its four entries and Germany will remain with three.
-If Inter wins on penalties: Only the result at 90 or 120 minutes counts in the Uefa rankings, so Germany will get four entries and Italy will be reduced to three.
-If Bayern wins: Germany will get four entries and Italy will be reduced to three.
Both sides will be without key figures, with Franck Ribéry and Thiago Motta suspended. Hamit Altıntop should take the former's place on Bayern's left flank, while Mourinho is likely to move captain Javier Zanetti, on his 700th Inter appearance, into a holding role in central midfield with Cristian Chivu playing left-back to combat the threat of Arjen Robben.
Bayern Munich :
Butt, Lahm, van Buyten, Demichelis, Contento, Robben, van Bommel, Schweinsteiger, Altintop, Muller, Olic.
Inter Milan :
Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Santon, Sneijder, Cambiasso, Zanetti, Milito, Eto’o, Pandev.
Man To Watch
Bayern Munich - Mark van Bommel
It was van Bommel who played the key role in helping Bayern to progress at Old Trafford in the quarter-final, using every ounce of his experience to staunch Manchester United’s attacks and to shape the game to his will. He will need all of that, and more, to keep the Inter onslaughts at bay.
Inter Milan - Wesley Sneijder
Sneijder was a peripheral figure for much of his time at the Bernabeu, but he has blossomed into the hub of Inter’s play under Jose Mourinho. He is the supply line to Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito, and id Bayern are to beat the Italian champions, they would have to keep Sneijder quiet.
Bayern Munich 1-2 Inter Milan
The odds are with Inter and it would take something really magnificent from the Bavarians to win their fifth European crown.