The Epic Journey: Bayern Munich and Inter’s Two Paths to the Bernabeu

While most people have jumped aboard the Jose Mourinho or the Louis van Gaal boat prior to today’s big clash, that wasn’t always the case. I was on the Barça boat myself, and I have to say that it really has amazed me to watch recent European “giants” be cast aside by “underdogs” Inter & Bayern. Now I know that Inter and Bayern are European powerhouses, they have, of course, won both their respective domestic titles and domestic cups. However, neither side have proved to be a real threat on Europe’s biggest stage in quite some time. It’s been refreshing, akin to Bordeaux not allowing Lyon to win Ligue 1 for an 8th year in a row last year. And, in truth, I think we’re set for a cracker.

So before we look inevitably look forward to the madness set to occur in front of an audience of hundreds of millions from around the world, let’s take a step back and see just how the Germans and the Italians have shifted the epicenter of European power.

The Group Stage

Inter had it rough, didn’t they? The Nerazzuri had to deal with European and Spanish champions Barcelona, Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kyiv, and Russian champions Rubin Kazan in Group F as well. This was the only group in the entire Champions League that had all four teams being winners of their respective domestic leagues. So even though Jose couldn’t beat Barcelona at this stage, kudos has to go to Inter for finishing second in the group.

Bayern had Bordeaux, Juventus, and Israel’s Maccabi Haifa. So yeah, what an easy group. Though Bordeaux dominated, the group’s second spot looked to be Juve’s before the Germans came back from 1-0 down in Torino to thrash the Bianconeri 4-1 and go through to the knockout stages. This was the beginning to Juve’s atrocious season. So I suppose Inter, Milan, Roma, and the rest of Serie A owe Bayern for their demoralising victory. Well done lads.

The Round of 16

Well, this one was full of drama. Jose going home to Chelsea. Mourinho took some swipes at his old club, saying they haven’t won anything legitimate since he’d left. Of course Carlo Ancelotti won the double this year for the Blues, but it’s always nice to hear Jose run his mouth a bit isn’t it? The first leg was won by Inter 2-1 at San Siro thanks to goals from Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito. Chelsea were denied a certain penalty, but hey, that’s football. Jose played ultra-defensive, counter-attack football, and didn’t it pay off? Samuel Eto’o took one of Inter’s few chances brilliantly, and Inter took the game 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. Sorry Don Carlo…

If you thought Inter’s first leg was controversial, then wow, Bayern Munich’s Round of 16 first-leg tie with Fiorentina made OJ Simpson’s trial look like a speeding ticket. Bayern grabbed a 2-1 victory thanks to Klose, but he should have been sent off after a daft tackle. But he wasn’t and he went on to score the match winning goal from an apparent offside position. Fiorentina were furious, and though they looked set to perform a bit of vigilante justice with a 2-0 start to the second leg, Bayern came back with three unanswered goals from 3-1 down to actually win the game 4-3. Like Juve, Bayern broke Fiorentina’s heart as well, as they had a relatively poor season. Now that I think about it, this German squad knocked out quite a few Italians. But anyway…

On to the Quarterfinals…

Inter had CSKA Moscow, which everyone said was “going to be harder than it looked.” But come on, Inter were always going to go through. The first leg at San Siro was 1-0 thanks to Milito, then second was 1-0 thanks to Sneijder. I don’t see what all the fuss was about.

Bayern, on the other hand, had to put up with the incredible Wayne Rooney and co. Everyone then said, “Well, Bayern play nice football. It should be a nice game” which means, “Rooney is going to have his way with those Germans.” The first leg initially lived up to the pundits’ expectations, as Rooney gave United a very early lead at the Allianz Arena. But then Franck Ribery had his way with United scored an equalizer, and the rich man’s Paul Dickov, the epically hard-working Ivica Olic scored an injury time winner for Bayern. It was also assisted by Rio Ferdinand’s decision to dribble from the back. So Bayern were feeling pretty good as they went to Old Trafford for the second leg, but so were United, who had a dream start to the match. Rooney was playing on a bad ankle, but still helped the Mancs jump to a 3-nil lead over the Bavarians. And that was that. Or was it? Olic snatch an impossibly-angled goal, and then a Rafael sending off gave Bayern hope once again. Just like his shoe sponsor says, “Impossible is nothing,” Arjen Robben scored an impossible last-minute volley that made the score 3-2, but 4-4 on aggregate. So Bayern heroically progressed on away goals thanks to their bald 25-year-old Dutchman. Fergie wasn’t all that happy with the loss, but the Germans were through!

Semifinals! You surely know about this one, don’t you?

I’ll start with Bayern Munich vs. Lyon. Michel Platini was so happy that one of his French sides made it this far, but all that pride was soon stripped as Bayern won 1-0 at home then 3-0 over at the Stade de Gerland over in France. Embarrassing stuff, but the Germans took that form and used it to snatch a Bundesliga title and a German Cup as well. Good job guys! Unfortunately Franck Ribery will not be able to take part in the final because of his reckless, studs-up challenge in the first leg of the semifinal. It was deemed a straight red, so now Franck has to sit in shame and think about all the stuff he does outside of football until the World Cup comes around.

On to Inter vs. Barcelona! Barcelona were coming off of a 6-3 aggregate win over Arsenal, so surely they could toss Inter aside as well. After all, it was beautiful, perfect football being played in Catalunya compared to, well, not perfect football. Just as Narcissus couldn’t help looking at himself, Barcelona couldn’t help but play predictable, pretty football, which Jose Mourinho jumped on, drowning the threats of Messi and Ibrahimovic. Inter became legends by defeating Barça 3-1 at the San Siro, thanks to goals from Eto’o, Milito, and Maicon. The second leg was just as unpredictable. Carlos Puyol was not able to play, but told Catalans to prepare for this game like it was a war. And didn’t they just do that? Barcelona were dominating, and then the Camp Nou fans can be thanked for helping influence the referee for Thiago Motta’s red card.

So now it was 11 vs. 10 men in Barca’s favour; surely the Blaugrana would toss the Italians aside? But that wasn’t the case. Inter backline of Lucio, Zanetti, Samuel, and Maicon played like Spartans, defending their ground despite being outnumbered. It was, in my opinion, the greatest defensive display since Greece won EURO 2004. Gerard Pique scored a stunner in the dying minutes, and a disallowed Bojan Krkic goal ensured that Jose could celebrate “the best feeling [he’s] ever had in his career.” Barcelona were sore losers and turned the sprinklers on Inter. Not exactly something “Beauty” would do to the “Beast” in a Disney film, but I digress…

The Final! We made it!

It was an epic journey to get to Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu, and both teams have already cemented legendary status with their loyal fans. That being said, footballing gods are above footballing legends in my book. So who will become gods? Inter Milan or Bayern Munich?

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