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Throwback Thursday | Arjen Robben breaks Bayern Munich’s 37-year-old Champions league curse

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Robben breaks Bayern Munich’s 37-year-old Champions league curse


Throwback Thursday | Arjen Robben breaks Bayern Munich’s 37-year-old Champions league curse

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Siddhant Lazar


Moments transcend everything in sport and none more so than in football especially the good ones. Welcome to 'Throwback Thursday', where we take a look at a moment in time, and in this week’s edition, we look at the 2013 Champions League final and a moment Bayern Munich fans will never forget.

It’s the end of the 2013 football season in Europe, and that means the entire world is glued to their televisions screens to watch the final game of the season. It was the culmination of what has been a fantastic season of football as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund play out their Der Klassiker at Wembley in the Champions League final. Somehow, the game is level with less than two minutes of normal time left and Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng has the ball.

He’s a wonderful passer of the ball and with time ticking down, Boateng is about to fire a classic long-range pass but at this stage of the game, it’s called a hail mary. His targets are Mario Mandzukic the archetype target man, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Frank Ribery and the entire Borussia Dortmund team barring two men. But before we dive into the climax and reach the end, let’s roll it back and figure out how we got here in the first place.

Because as fate would have it, this is exactly where Bayern Munich was supposed to be and that’s the furthest thing from an understatement. Few doubted their title credentials as they steam-rolled everyone else on the road to their first Bundesliga title in two years. Only Borussia Dortmund stood in their way but when a side lost just one game and drew four more, Jurgen Klopp’s men were left only dreaming of a three-peat.

They had after all dominated German football with ruthless gegenpressing and counter-attacking football while Bayern transitioned and created a super team. But few will say that Klopp and his men didn’t deserve their titles with a 27-game unbeaten run in the league to end the 2011/12 season and trouncing their only opponents in Bayer Leverkusen the year before that. Yet with Bayern Munich back in the fray, Dortmund struggled to keep up as the Bavarians strolled to a 25-point lead. That is despite not beating their Der Klassiker rivals twice in the league although elsewhere the same couldn’t be said.

In total, that season, the sides met each other on five occasions including the finals but before the Champions League final, barring the league draws, Dortmund had lost. That includes a 1-0 quarter-final loss in the DFB-Pokal and a 2-1 loss in the DFL Super Cup played at the start of the season. It also set the tone for the final with it a chance for the Bavarians to walk away with every trophy available to them in the season after beating VfB Stuttgart 3-2 in the DFB Pokal final. Not just that, the game also over and above the Der Klassiker element, had the added element of being a grudge match.

Not only for Dortmund after the events of the season but more so for Bayern Munich after what their Der Klassiker rivals did to them over the last three seasons. You see, since the start of the 2010/11 season to the end of the 2012/13 season, Borussia Dortmund were the kings of Germany and Bayern could say nothing about that. They won two league titles, lifted a German Cup and were beloved by the entire Bundesliga thanks to their exuberant brand of football. Bayern struggled to hit the same heights and their performances in the Der Klassiker proves that rather nicely.

Somehow with six games played in the league, two in the DFB Pokal and one in the DFL Supercup, Bayern had managed to win just two. Dortmund walked away with five wins and two draws including a 5-2 thrashing they handed out in the final of the DFB-Pokal in the 2011/12 season despite Arjen Robben putting on a show. The Dutchman was at his best between the 2010 World Cup and the 2014 World Cup, doing some of his most destructive work during that period.

It also meant that his incredible performance in the final of the Pokal, with a goal and an assist, would mean nothing thanks to a sensational Robert Lewandowski hattrick. But the worst was yet to come as Bayern still had to contest the 2012 Champions League final against Chelsea. Another game would have never taken place if not for Robben with him scoring a crucial away goal against Real Madrid in the semi-finals. It would lead to added time and then penalties which Bayern won after Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, and Sergio Ramos all missed their spot-kicks.

Bayern Munich celebrate after beating Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate © Twitter

That game also saw Robben face his former side in the Los Blancos with him getting the chance to do it all over again against Chelsea. Then came that final against the Blues and Robben was far from his best despite Bayern Munich dominating and yet his part was still to come. It eventually did, after Thomas Muller opened the scoring before Didier Drogba equalised in normal time, and it took added time for Robben to turn into a villain. That role was supposed to go to Drogba after he gave away the penalty but Robben stepped up and missed his spot kick which meant that the game would go to a shootout.

One that Bayern failed to live up to their otherwise near perfect standards as Chelsea lifted the trophy in incredible circumstances. But more to the point, that miss hurt Robben and it meant that for most of this season, the Dutchman wasn’t the Robben that the Bundesliga knew and feared. He walked into the final with just 31 appearances to his name, missing 23 games thanks to various injuries. But even in his 31 appearances, the winger only managed to score 13 times although he did net in back-to-back Champions League games against Barcelona in the two-legged semi-finals.

Yet, his form or lack thereof affected the game with the Bavarians struggling to find themselves a foothold in the first half. Instead, Jurgen Klopp and his merry band of young and speedy stars found theirs as they hurried and hassled Bayern into making mistakes at Wembley. The BVB had chances and a bucket full of them although the real talking point of the first half would be Robben and his ability to miss the net. The winger had not one but two immense chances to take the lead but failed to take either although Roman Weidenfeller was in the form of his life.

So was Manuel Neuer at the other end, and it was probably why the first half ended goalless. The second half arrived and for those who don’t know it, Wembley is a huge ground. Not just in terms of its capacity or looks but the ground itself is massive which doesn’t play well for a team that loves to press and press from the front. It would see Dortmund eventually tire out in the second half and Bayern took their chances with their pressure growing and growing as every moment passed.

Then out of nowhere Robben had the ball, he’d beaten Weidenfeller and simply cut it back to the middle. Just like that, everything he missed in the first half was forgotten as Mario Mandzukic tucked home the opening goal. That lasted only seven minutes, however, as Dante produced a Nigel de Jong-esque kick on Kevin Grosskreutz and Dortmund were awarded a penalty. The kicker, pun intended, was the fact that the Brazilian was on a yellow card and should have been sent off for a second bookable offense but lady luck simply wasn't on Dortmund’s side despite Ilkay Gundogan tucking home the spot-kick.

The stadium celebrated and so did most of the world as they all wanted the “Robin Hoods” to win. But four minutes later and Muller rounds Weidenfeller and passes the ball into what should be an empty net. Yet with Neven Subotic charging down the ball and Robben on the other side, few expected the Dortmund man to reach first and produce a sensational goal-line clearance. Shocked, the stadium held their head in their hands and waited for the whistle to blow but Bayern were the furthest thing from done.

The Bavarians had five more clear cut chances, including a penalty shout that wasn’t given, with Weidenfeller pulling off saves or blocks every time. Bavaria groaned each time because the Dortmund legend was at his very best and seemed absolutely unstoppable on the night which brings us to our moment in time. Jerome Boateng stands over the ball with him looking down the field and at a lot of heads including the cheer of what seems like a billion people.

He knows, however, that with five heads in red and nine in yellow, his long-range pass has to be perfect. Nobody is charging at him, for now, which means that he has all the time in the world to pick his target. Boateng looks up, winds his foot and off flies the hail mary as nearly 90,000 at Wembley watches on in disbelief at the game they'd just seen. Men, women and children in red and yellow, a stadium split apart but yet at that moment, they all collectively held their breath. Watching, waiting for what seemed like forever.

Welcome to a moment in history.

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