This Champions League final did not just live up to expectations, it surpassed them all.
Any lingering regrets that an English club, or Barcelona and Real Madrid, had not made it to Wembley lasted about 90 seconds, as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich tore into each other with a gusto that lasted all the way until Arjen Robben’s 89th-minute goal settled this utterly absorbing contest.
What a game this was. If you took your eye off the action for a second you were in danger of missing something: a flash of skill, a powerful run, a sublime long pass, a fierce strike, a critical save.
The excitement had been building since first light in London, where fans clad in yellow or red clutching large bottles of beer competed in good-natured singing contests. By kick-off time Dortmund’s famous ’yellow wall’ was bouncing and it did not stop.
The longer the match progressed, the greater the feeling that England should be envious of what was on show at the country’s national stadium. English football may be as frenetic as this was, but it can only have stared green-eyed at the level of technical skill on show. And the only reason the final was goalless at half-time was because the goalkeepers were equally as good as the outfield players.
Dortmund’s Roman Weidenfeller twice denied Robben in the first half. At the other end Manuel Neuer was equally dominant, winning his direct confrontation with Robert Lewandowski, the Polish striker with a body to match the super middleweight boxers limbering up across the capital.
Dortmund had been almost frenzied in the first half but Bayern looked the cooler prospects, especially from set-plays.
Robben’s talent for finding space finally proved decisive and the Dutch winger produced a wonderful ball from the left to leave Mario Mandzukic with an easy clip into the unguarded net.
One feared for Dortmund, but Dante’s infernal boot on Marco Reus produced a penalty that the outstanding Ilkay Gundogan drilled home. Bayern no doubt gulped in relief that that was the only punishment: Dante had already booked and how he stayed on the pitch is a mystery.
Bastian Schweinsteiger put Thomas Muller through, and he took the ball wide past a stranded Weidenfeller before stroking the ball towards the empty net. Either it seemed destined to go in, or for Robben to knock it home, but the heroic Neven Subotic showed extraordinary desire and bravery to get there first and clear off the line.
The spills and thrills were almost uncountable, and this hung in the balance until a barely credible finale. With one minute to go before stoppage time, Robben – having suffered after a trio of agonising final losses, two in the Champions League and the 2010 World Cup – finally achieved redemption.
Franck Ribery’s backheel put him in and he showed remarkable coolness to finish.
This all-German final has provoked more than a degree of soul-searching about English football, and with good reason. English clubs’ failure in the Champions League this season, and perhaps more pertinently the quality of young players coming through eligible to pull on an England shirt, should be a cause for concern.
If this was a wake-up call, then it is one English football would love to have every week.