In the lead-up to the Champions League final, we kept hearing about the new era of German football as the perfect complement to that nation’s dominant economy. The final score tells a different story: the team with the fewest Germans won.
Bayern’s 2-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund’s ultimately overpowered side relied heavily on the big-spending Munich team’s foreign players: Dutchman Arjen Robben and Frenchman Franck Ribéry launched attack after attack down their respective wings and teamed for the winning goal in the 89th minute when Ribéry got under a long pass and somehow slipped the ball behind him toward goal. It fell to the charging Robben, who faked past the last defender and then sent Dortmund goalie Roman Weidenfeller—who was magnificent all day—the wrong way before rolling the ball past him with his deft left foot.
Dortmund was chasing the game by then, despite leveling the score in the 68th minute on a penalty kick by İlkay Gündoğan , after Bayern’s Brazilian defender Dante raised his knee into Marco Reus’s chest in the box. You could label it a generous call, but it was Dortmund’s deserved reward for taking the game to Bayern from the start.
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Neither Bayern goal was hit hard enough to disturb a radar gun. The first, at 59:07, was another foreign job. Robben broke down the middle and found Ribéry with a pass to his left. The Frenchmen’s return pass put Robben deep in the Dortmund box. His reverse pass toward Mario Mandžukić was slightly deflected but managed to get through, leaving the Croatian forward to guide a tap in for the goal.
The first five minutes offered no indication that it would be Bayern’s day. The team in red and white had no organized attack, mostly because Dortmund gave Bayern not an inch of space. The team in yellow and black was buzzing. The game looked positively English, which was fitting given that London’s Wembley Stadium was hosting, with Bayern limited to a few long balls that didn’t ask much of the Dortmund defense.
The first real shot didn’t come until 10 minutes into the game, a blazer that went high over Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer. But early in the 14th minute, Robert Lewandowski served notice about why he’s the most wanted striker in Europe with a hot shot, as Dortmund began to pass comfortably through the Bayern defense. Shortly afterward Jakub Blaszczykowski raked a shot that Neuer saved with a shin.
As ineffective as Bayern was in possession, its few chances were dangerous.
Ribéry served up a delicious cross from the left to Mario Mandžukić, and the Croat’s on-target header was tipped onto and over the bar by the alert Weidenfeller. Robben had several great chances to break the game open; one was streaking onto a somewhat lucky pass only to have Weidenfeller quickly close off the angle. In the 43rd minute, the ball fell kindly to Robben in the box, but he bounced a shot off Weidenfeller’s mug. The goalkeeping on both sides was brilliant.
Bayern’s inability to make the killer pass through Dortmund’s the midfield—Sebastian Schweinsteiger hadn’t been heard from—marked the first half. The relentlessness of Robben and Ribéry began to weigh. The pair never stopped running, switching positions, defending, even moving into the middle at times. You could call them desperate. Robben had a chance to put the game away in the 72nd minute, when Thomas Müller ran past the defense and rolled the ball perfectly across the goal mouth toward him, but Neven Subotić robbed him with a perfectly timed sliding tackle to preserve the score for the moment.
There would be no agony of defeat for the Bavarians, who were within 7 minutes of the championship last year before blowing the lead and the game to Chelsea. Is this the beginning of a new German era? Probably not. Dortmund will be hard pressed to keep its best players, and one of them, Mario Götze, is already signed for Bayern next year. And Bayern’s new coach, Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola, will have the budget to buy the players he wants. Bayern will be as German as Arsenal is English.
Throughout Europe’s financial crisis, during which their country has thrived, Germans have suggested to free-spending European countries that they be a little more German—spend a little less, save a little more. But Bayern has proven that in soccer at least, it pays to pay out the big bucks all over Europe, or South America, to get the players you want. Which is why it is likely to remain Germany’s lone continental powerhouse.