There’s no competition that I love quite as much as the UEFA Champions League. Maybe the only exception is the World Cup, but that’s more due to the fact that it comes after 4 years. After watching the Champions League for the last 17 years, I still bubble with excitement now when I hear the tune of the iconic Champions League anthem as I did as a 9-year old boy.
Sie sind die allerbesten Mannschaften (they are the best teams), so the line goes, and indeed Real Madrid and Bayern Munich more than satisfy that tag. Whenever this pairing is drawn in the competition, I get chills coursing down my spine. One, the Big Red Machine of Munich is the club that I first fell in love with in the competition, whereas the other, the ultimate royal club of Spain is the club that I heard about the most, the bona fide kings of European football, the club I just couldn’t ignore. Every season I have dreamt of the coming together of these two giants in the final, but as always, the gods of football have harboured a wicked sense of humour, ensuring that they have clashed in every other stage of the competition bar the final. On the Wednesday April 12, Bayern and Real will duel at the Allianz Arena in the first leg of this season’s quarter final, some two stages off the final. Bummer! Maybe next time.
That epic encounter at the Santiago Bernabeu on that night in May 2001 remains one of my favourite memories. Real Madrid were then the reigning European champions (as they are now) and were looking to book their place at the San Siro final (where they won it last year). Standing between them and that dream was a wounded Bayern Munich, beaten (in)famously in 1999 by Manchester United in the final and knocked out of the semi final in 2000 by Real Madrid, a tie which I watched in a somewhat state of disbelief.
On this night though, the hosts came out guns blazing with the intention of killing the tie there and then, and even though my memories of it now are hazy at best, I remember Oliver Kahn, the great Oliver Kahn producing one of the best rear guard displays I’ve ever seen to thwart Madrid. His goal was being peppered with attack after attack in an almighty constant siege. Then again football is a weird old sport. In the 55th minute some random forward pass/clearance drops perfectly for Bayern’s number 9 Brazilian, Giovanne Elber who hits a one-time volley past an unexpecting Iker Casillas in the Real goal to give the Germans a precious away goal which would turn into an invaluable first leg away win.
Bayern would go on to finish the job in the return leg at the old Munich Olimpiastadion, despite Luis Figo having cancelled Elber’s opener thereby threatening to brew more drama. Ten minutes before half time Jens Jeremies off a clever Mehmet Scholl free kick drill would seal the victory. It hadn’t been the highest goal scoring of ties, but over the 180 minutes, and especially the first 90, I was enthralled, captivated and left in awe at the supreme quality of football on display. You hear teams being called ‘giants of European football’. That phrase gets bandied a lot, but in truth, it hardly ever gets truer for a pairing other than these two grand clubs. The young boy in me got a feel of that then and that feeling has never gone away. It lingers, and this Wednesday in Munich maybe these two protagonists will do to it some justice.
How will the match go? I don’t know. I mean, these are two of the best three club sides in the world, both bossing their respective leagues, and between them boast 17 European titles. Suffice to say, it will be lit. For me, as someone who has grown to love and admire both clubs, it will be a hell of a night. Even worse, there will be 90+ more minutes to last through in the Spanish capital. For the moment though, I thank God, thank every god there is, or ever was or will be and the whole universe and anyone else I can possibly thank that we have another two-fold installment of Bayern Munich v Real Madrid.