It could still be a special one. Even without Jose Mourinho taking on his old Chelsea players, the 2012 Champions League final in Munich promises so much after Bayern Munich and Arjen Robben set up a May 19 date at their Allianz Arena home with Chelsea, Barcelona’s conquerors. So much for the Spanish inquisition.
Judging by some of the average defending on show from the Germans early on when Cristiano Ronaldo lifted his season’s tally to 54, Didier Drogba may fancy his chances. Jerome Boateng and Holger Badstuber were caught out occasionally and they have been weakened by suspension.
The second-yellow peril deprives Bayern of Badstuber, their left-back David Alaba and their holding midfielder, Luiz Gustavo, although the reading of the bans makes far more depressing listening for Chelsea, who will be without John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles. The naughty step will be rather crowded in Munich.
If there was nothing surprising about the sight of a German side prevailing on penalties, this must rank as one of the most surreal shoot-outs, including misses from the two most expensive footballers in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo (£80 million) and Kaka (£65 million). Manuel Neuer guessed right both times.
It started simply enough. As the Bernabeu shook to Madrid chants of “Iker, Iker”, Casillas stood on his line, facing Bayern’s first kick.
It was Alaba, showing no signs of being distracted by that booking. He strode up and fired his penalty confidently in.
Then came the aberrations from Ronaldo and Kaka either side of Mario Gomez’s finish. Bayern led 2-0. Toni Kroos was denied by Casillas and belief briefly returned to Real hearts, particularly after Xabi Alonso successfully ignored Neuer’s attempted Spaghetti Legs. When Philipp Lahm’s kick was beaten away by Casillas, Madrid celebrated madly. But then came Sergio Ramos, placing the ball deliberately on the spot, and then sending it hurtling into orbit, comfortably clearing the bar. All it required was for Bastian Schweinsteiger, such a fine all-round footballer, to supply the coup de grace and men in red shirts spilled across the pitch.
Mourinho disappeared down the tunnel. So there will be no special fairytale for Mourinho, who had told some of his old Chelsea players that he would see them in Munich. It had all started so well for him.
“The years pass, the legend is eternal” read a banner the size of the Bayeux Tapestry behind the Bayern goal that Real were storming towards in a gripping first half, seizing a two-goal lead through the regal Ronaldo. Until Robben dragged Bayern back into it with that 28th-minute penalty, Madrid had seemed on a mission, playing some incredible passes, over short distance and long.
Alonso was at the heart of it, playing the quarterback, living up to his SatNav nickname sweeping passes around. Mesut Ozil darted here and there. Angel Di Maria cut in from the right. Karim Benzema buzzed about, creating holes for midfielders to pour into.
But all eyes were on Ronaldo, who was fouled after only 44 seconds, brought to earth by Luiz Gustavo. No matter. The Portuguese attacker was superb; even a full-back as accomplished as Lahm, Bayern’s captain, could not deal with Ronaldo. His movement and pace were irresistible. Ronaldo’s accuracy was exceptional, beginning with his penalty after four minutes.
The decision was tinged with controversy, Bayern angry that Alaba, their left-back, was deemed to have handled. When Di Maria volleyed goalwards, the ball was travelling at such speed, and was struck so close to Alaba, that there was little he could do. Viktor Kassai, the experienced Hungarian referee, pointed immediately to the spot. Ronaldo placed the ball down and then placed it confidently, unerringly into the net.
Alaba sought to make amends, embarking on a long run which ended with a cross that Robben somehow lifted over the bar from close range. The game was breathless, the noise unrelenting, the technical quality outstanding and some of the defence totally hapless.
The game was swaying from end to end. There was so much compelling fare. Ronaldo ran in and crossed, sending palpitations through Neuer and his defence.
Then Bayern made it 3-3 on aggregate. When Pepe pushed Gomez, who was chasing a Toni Kroos ball, the Madrid defender could easily have walked. Gomez was through on goal, and Pepe was fortunate to receive only a yellow from Kassai.
Bayern still returned from their excursion into Madrid’s box with tangible reward, although Casillas was so close to reaching the spot-kick from Robben, his old colleague. As the ball squeezed in, Bayern fans were jubilant, all standing with their “Red Power” and “Red Sharks” banners.
Nerves crept into Madrid’s play. They could sense the Germans’ belief. Passes went astray. Challenges were hurried. A break from Ribery was crudely ended by Alvaro Arbeloa. Then Robben’s shot was blocked by Marcelo. Pepe then misjudged Robben’s run but Casillas was out sharply, saving at the Dutchman’s feet.
Whatever the uncertainty in Real’s movement, their fans kept up their percussive beat of support, their constant chants of “Ma-drid”.
When Ronaldo lined up a free-kick just before the 70-minute mark, the volume rose even higher, although subsiding slightly when Neuer gathered the strike.
Yet still the Bayern fans could be heard, revelling in the sight of Robben and Schweinsteiger so worrying Madrid. Gomez could have prevented extra time but he dithered and Madrid cleared. And so to extra time. And so to penalties. And so to Munich.
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria (Kaka 75), Ozil (Granero 111), Ronaldo; Benzema (Higuain106). Subs: Adan, Coentrao, Albiol, Callejon, Booked: Pepe, Arbeloa.
Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Badstuber, Alaba; Schweinsteiger, Gustavo; Robben, Kroos, Ribery (Muller 95); Gomez. Booked: Alaba, Robben, Badstuber, Gustavo Subs: Butt, Rafinha, Contento, Pranjic, Tymoshchuk, Olic
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hungary)