Can Euro showpiece spur national side?

The Champions League final traditionally ends the football season across Europe, but it doesn’t feel that way this year.

Attention now switches from club to country, for Ireland’s principal rivals in Group C, above all.

The Swedish league is less than halfway through a season that finishes in November although most of the Swedish squad play for foreign clubs and thus are due a break. Now they have to refocus for next week’s friendly against Macedonia followed by two crucial games when they hope to make up ground on Germany.

The Germans themselves are finding it hard not to be smug. After Saturday’s dramatic finish, Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German Football Association said “both clubs have represented German football sensationally in this Champions League season and done an incredible amount for its prestige”.

They have also done something for its finances. Amid the warm post-match glow, Kicker magazine, Germany’s football bible, commented that “only winning the [European] title creates the basis for a sustainable increase in the international value of the Bundesliga”. In effect it puts the stamp of financial success on the strategy set out over a decade ago after the TV bubble burst.

Wembley showcased their football at its best (apart from a few skirmishes outside the ground) and the players can afford to relax for their two friendlies in the United States against Ecuador and the USA, although Bayern Munich still have the cup final against Stuttgart to come on Saturday.

No German side has ever won the treble and it would be the ultimate present for their departing manager Jupp Heynckes, although he’s still not committing himself about retirement. There have even been suggestions he might return to Real Madrid.

Phillip Lahm’s post-match comments explained how much this win meant to the Bayern players.

“The relief is great, the pressure was tremendous,” he said. “We didn’t know if we would get another chance. I have always said that if you want to be a golden generation you have to win titles. Bastian Schweinsteiger and I have played together for 16 years, in the youth team as well, it is nice we can celebrate this one together.”

Lahm and Schweinsteiger are part of the spine of a Bayern side that will also provide the backbone of Germany’s assault on the World Cup next year. The first all-German final has given them a real boost, even if both Bayern and Borussia Dortmund have relied heavily on foreign players.

The Polish contingent at Dortmund, above all Robert Lewandoski, played a starring role in Europe while Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery made the difference for Bayern at home as well as abroad. Both players have in the past been targeted for abuse by the fans. Robben might even have left the club 12 months ago. Germany is justly proud of its new generation of homegrowns, but it has been calculated that Bayern would not be Bundesliga champions if goals scored by foreign players were excluded.

It is hard to see German football loosening its grip over the next 12 months, even if there is a danger of Bayern turning the Bundesliga into a one-horse race with Pep Guardiola in charge and Mario Goetze and possibly Lewandowski joining the squad. They should have a genuine chance of becoming the first club to win the Champions League twice in-a-row.

Germany also look to have Group C sewn up, but perhaps not quite. They are hoping Sweden slip up in Vienna in 10 days’ time. But if the Swedish players can show the same resilience they displayed in that amazing 4-4 draw in Berlin last October and secure back-to-back wins against Austria and the Faroes they will still, in theory, have a chance of top spot. Their final match is at home — against the Germans.

As Kicker commented on Sunday: “Whether the German success [in the Champions League] is really the start of a new era, next season will have to prove. The signs are good, but the bar is set high. Jupp Heynckes has left a powerful legacy for Pep Guardiola and Joachim Loew and the national team for the 2014 World Cup has risen once again. The ‘dream final’ has created a great desire for more titles.”

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Saturday, April 17, 2021

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