The Champions Leagueâ€”celebrated here in the pastâ€”is the tournament for the best club teams in Europe. The final, Saturday at the Bernabeu in Madrid, pits two classic sides against each other: the German stalwarts Bayern Munich against tenacious Inter Milan.
For those not following the blow by blow, Inter, under the maniacally brilliant leadership of Jose Mourinho, ousted favorites Barcelona in the semifinals. They held Barca, with the best offense in the game, to just two goals over two gamesâ€”it wasnâ€™t pretty, just effective. Mourinho, the impossibly egomaniacal and successful manager from Portugal, calls himself â€˜The Special Oneâ€™ without irony. He gets into the heads of referees, of rival managers, and of his opponents. More importantly he gets into the head of his own team. They feel the world has conspired against them and play fiercely competitive football. Their midfield is led by the peerless Dutchman Wes Sneijder who can take over a game with visionary passing and deceptive ball control. The frontline is spearheaded by Samuel Etoâ€™o who can appear out of nowhere and score the only goal Inter needs.
Standing in their way is Bayern, the giants of the German game who last raised the Champions League trophy in 2001. This year they started slowly and have only gotten better and better. Nobodyâ€™s played with more precision than Arjen Robben, the Dutch striker who has a habit of scoring outrageous goals at crucial moments. Just ask fans of Fiorentina and Manchester Unitedâ€”he sent them both home with exquisite skill from distance that left neutrals gasping. Can he do it against Inter? With Sebastian Schweinsteigerâ€™s service he may well. The problem for Bayern isnâ€™t scoringâ€”itâ€™s a weak back line, particularly against the counter attack.
Inter believe theyâ€™re the leading players in a script written by the Special One. The final act is tomorrow in Spain.
Oh, and if thatâ€™s not enough for you: itâ€™s three weeks to the World Cup.