With minutes left to play and the biggest game in club football once again in his hands, Arjen Robben made sure he didn’t miss this time.
Robben found redemption at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, scoring the winner in the 89th minute of the Champions League final to give Bayern a 2-1 victory over German rival Borussia Dortmund – ending four years of frustration for his team in Europe’s biggest tournament and erasing some of the painful memories of his penalty miss in last year’s final.
“I don’t know how many times I dreamed about it,” Robben said. “Everybody I spoke to before the game I said, ‘Today is going to be the night and we’re going to do it.’ To do it, in the end, is an unbelievable feeling.”
This was a win that was long in the making for both Robben and Bayern, not only because of the stubborn challenge from a Dortmund side that refused to accept its status as an underdog in the club’s biggest game in 16 years.
Bayern had lost two of the last three Champions League finals, including the gut-wrenching defeat in a penalty shootout to Chelsea last year in its own stadium in Munich.
Robben missed a penalty in extra time in that game, a mistake that stung the Bayern fans so much that many temporarily turned against him. This time, when he carried the European Cup toward the thousands of celebrating red-and-white fans and raised it over his head, there was nothing but undivided adulation in return.
“There are so many emotions, especially after where we came from. Last year was such a disappointment,” Robben said. “We’ve spoken about it. In the last four years, we’ve been in the final three times. It needed to happen but you still have to do it.”
In a game that featured a slew of chances for both teams, Mario Mandzukic put Bayern ahead in the 60th minute at Wembley Stadium before Ilkay Gundogan leveled from the penalty spot eight minutes later, after defender Dante fouled Marco Reus in the area.
Robben had missed two great chances in the first half, reviving memories of last year and even of the 2010 World Cup final, when the winger missed the Netherlands’ best chance when he came one-on-one with Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas and missed.
Even Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer, the club’s honorary president, said on TV during halftime that “evidently in the big games he just can’t score.”
But this time, he could.
Robben ran onto Franck Ribery’s backheeled flick-on in the area and calmly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller to give Bayern its first Champions League victory since 2001. Bayern lost to Inter Milan in the 2010 final.
“That’s three finals and of course, you don’t want the stamp of a loser, you don’t want that tag,” Robben said. “It was a sense of ‘finally.’ It was unbelievable, I can’t describe what’s going through my mind.”
Robben also set up the first goal for Bayern, taking a pass from Ribery and drawing Weidenfeller out toward the touchline before squaring for Mandzukic, who could hardly miss from a few yards out.
But the lead didn’t last long. Dante clumsily clattered into Reus in the area, and Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli pointed to the spot. Gundogan sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way before calmly slotting his spot kick into the right side of the net.
But Dortmund seemed to tire toward the end, and Bayern had a couple of good chances before Robben’s late winner.
“It’s hard to deal with the disappointment right now, especially if you concede the goal in the 89th minute,” Dortmund defender Mats Hummels said. “In the end, we had become a little tired and Bayern took advantage.”
The European Cup title caps a spectacular season for Bayern, which broke a host of Bundesliga records in running away with the German league title – finishing an unprecedented 25 points ahead of second-place Dortmund.
It can still complete a treble, as it faces Stuttgart in the German Cup final next Saturday.
Regardless of that result, coach Jupp Heynckes will leave the German powerhouse in perfect style. Heynckes, who is stepping down at the end of the season, won his second Champions League trophy after leading Real Madrid to the title in 1998.
He will be replaced by Pep Guardiola next season, but the former Barcelona coach will have a hard time improving on this Bayern side – which dismantled the Spanish giants 7-0 on aggregate in the semifinals.
“It’s incredible what the team had achieved in the last few years. And today we were finally rewarded. We had to overcome a lot of setbacks,” Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said. “There was so much pressure, it was enormous.
After you lose two finals, if you lose again you don’t know if you’ll get another chance. The pressure was so great, I’d never felt so much pressure before. The international titles were missing, we never won a big international title for this generation.”
For Dortmund, it’s another bitter runner-up finish to its main rival, having seen Bayern end its two-year hold on the Bundesliga title.
“We are very proud to have given them a good contest,” Weidenfeller said. “But we didn’t manage to win. We gave our best. We’ll be back next season.”
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