25 May 2013

2013 UEFA Champions League Final preview

Will Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp still be smiling at full time?
The first ever all-German Final of the UEFA Champions League takes place tonight as Borussia Dortmund face Bayern Munich at Wembley Stadium in London.

When the Semi Final draw was made, many were expecting Real Madrid vs Barcelona in the Final, but this clash between the Bundesliga's big two is no less exciting, and at the end of it, we will see a team from Germany lift the famous trophy for the first time since 2001.

Borussia Dortmund's only previous European Cup Final to date was in 1997, when Lars Ricken scored the winner against Juventus and their team included the likes of Karl-Heinz Riedle and Paul Lambert. Today, their squad retains a very German core, with a string of youngsters making their mark on global footblal.

Borussia saw off Manchester City in the group stage and staged an incredible comeback against Malaga in the Quarter Final before doing enough to stop Real Madrid in the Semis.

Borussia, nicknamed Die Schwarzgelben (or the Black Yellows), are managed by Jurgen Klopp, a fairly young coach at 45 years old who led them to successive Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012. The bespectacled Klopp is charismatic and laid back, but his unusual look for a football manager disguises a tactical genius. In five seasons, he has guided BVB from the brink of bankruptcy to the edge of immortality.

Klopp is missing his main creative force in midfield, as Mario Gotze - who ironically will join Bayern in the summer - will miss this game with a hamstring injury. Defender Mats Hummels, who like Gotze is among several young German internationals in the Dortmund team, could also miss the game with an ankle injury. Polish right-back Lukasz Piszczek will play tonight, though, before having hip surgery.

Two other youthful Germans to look out for in Borussia's line-up are midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and forward Marco Reus. However, the big star of this team is a Poland international. Since moving to the Westfalenstadion from Lech Poznan in 2010, striker Robert Lewandowski has scored 75 goals in just 139 games. It is not inconceivable that Lewandowski could score the winner against Bayern Munich tonight and then join Bayern in the summer.

Thomas Muller has a famous Bayern surname - can he follow in Gerd's footsteps?

Bayern Munich are in their 10th European Cup Final and have previously been crowned champions four times. They won three successive titles during the Gerd Muller era between 1974 and 1976, and their last recent success was in a 2001 penalty shoot-out against Valencia.

This year, Bayern have taken the Bundesliga by storm, picking up 25 points more than 2nd-placed Borussia to be crowned champions again. In the Champions League, they suffered an early group stage loss to Belarus's BATE Borisov, but they won the group, saw off Arsenal and Juventus in the knockout stages, and then demolished Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate to reach Wembley.

This will be manager Jupp Heynckes' penultimate game as manager of Bayern (his last will be the DFB-Pokal Final against VfB Stuttgart next week). Once this season is over, 68-year-old Heynckes will hand over the reins to a certain Josep Guardiola and will almost certainly retire. How he would love to end his career with a second Champions League winners' medal to add to the one he picked up as Real Madrid boss in 1998.

As you would expect from a team nicknamed 'FC Hollywood', near enough all of the Bayern players are household names: any football fan would recognise the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and captain Philipp Lahm. I have said time and again that goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has been outstanding this season, although to be fair, he's hardly had anything to do!

There are no fresh injuries in the Bayern team, but they'll still be without defender Holger Badstuber, who last week ruptured his cruciate ligaments for a second time and will be out until the latter stages of next season.

Tonight, the Germans invade London, with massive yellow and red armies mobilising at Wembley. Who will be victorious when Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli blows the final whistle? Although I have to admit to having a soft spot for Borussia in recent years, I have to say that Bayern are the strong favourites.

This could potentially be a genuine classic, just like the last Champions League Final to take place under the arch two years ago.

TDTR PREDICTS: Borussia Dortmund 1-3 Bayern Munich

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