Arjen Robben has one schtick. The Dutchman always cuts in on his left foot.
Had events gone differently in the 2013 Champions League final, he may have cemented a second: flopping in the big games.
An hour into Bayern Munich's 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund, the signs pointed to yet another crushing trophy loss and yet more blame.
Consider: since 2010, Robben has lost two Champions League finals and the World Cup final. He spurned an open breakaway with the score still scoreless in the 2010 World Cup final; Spain went on to win 1-0. He missed a penalty in extra time in last year's Champions League final; Chelsea went on to win on penalties.
In the first half against Dortmund, the first all-German Champions League final, Robben twice shot clear chances straight at Roman Weidenfeller's face.
"At halftime I thought, 'This can't be happening again,'" Robben told Sky.
Unable to finish, the 29-year-old figured he might as well try a pass.
On the hour mark, Mario Mandzukic pulled down a Manuel Neuer clearance. (Dortmund, despite boasting Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, each 6-foot-4, barely won a defensive header.) Robben and Franck Ribery exchanged passes that set Robben free down the inside left channel. The Dutchman hit the endline and cut the ball across goal. A kind deflection put the ball in front of the open Mandzukic, who deftly deflected into the net.
A sloppy foul by Dante, which should have seen the previously booked Brazilian ejected, allowed Dortmund to pull level quickly. Ilkay Gündogan scored his first penalty and first Champions League goal. (Robert Lewandowski, strongly linked with Bayern in the summer, had missed a spot kick against Neuer three weeks prior in a league game.)
Gündogan became the first player to score a penalty in a Champions League final since 2001, which only brought to mind Robben's miss last year.
As the game opened up even more dramatically, with the ball hardly bothering to wave when passing the midfield zones, Robben moved up top, to better exploit his pace.
Two trends became further entrenched. For one, Robben has only scored with his right foot once in the last three years (Bundesliga and Champions League). "He never uses his right foot even if he misses chances," Michel Salgado, a teammate with Robben for three years, told Ten. The other was that Robben took 24 straight shots in Champions League finals without scoring.
"It just seems like Arjen Robben can't score in decisive matches," Franz Beckenbauer said at halftime.
When Subotic executed a microsecond-perfect sliding tackle to deny Robben on the line, it looked as though the futility streak would continue. And it did – until the 89th minute, at least.
Again, Dortmund failed to deal with a deep lob into the defensive third. Ribery pulled down a free kick from deep in Bayern's half with ease at the top of the BVB box. Under pressure, he rolled the ball with the bottom of his cleat into the path of Robben.
The Dutchman sprung forward – few, if any, players in the world can match Robben for his burst of acceleration – tipped the ball around Hummels and took another touch to lead Weidenfeller the wrong way. On his 25th shot in CL finals, Robben finally slipped one past the goalkeeper, his tame strike trickling inside the post for the game winner.
"I heard so many people saying in the last weeks saying they would grant me this," Robben told ZDF. "They told me, 'You'll score the goal.'"
The people were right. The angst and failure rolled away in the form of tears at the final whistle.
Jupp Heynckes became the fourth coach to win the Champions League with two different clubs. In 1998, a few days after he lifted the trophy, Real Madrid fired him. He has one last game in charge of Bayern, the German Cup final against Stuttgart, after which Pep Guardiola will replace him.
One more win and Heynckes will leave Guardiola trying to emulate the first ever treble by a German club.
Bayern won the league by 25 clear points over Dortmund, the second best team in Europe this year. It posted a 7-0 aggregate score over Barcelona, the best team in a generation, in the CL semifinals.
Despite the Bavarians' smothering domination, Robben had a poor season. Injury and form cost him a starting spot, and he complained frequently about his lack of playing time.
But an injury to Toni Kroos gave Robben another chance in the final weeks of the season. The Dutchman learned from his time away from the starting lineup: he tracked back more fervently and seemed more eager to tee up teammates.
A run of positive form (five goals in his last eight matches) crescendoed in Saturday's final, with a man of the match display and no shortage of redemption.
"It is hard to describe," Thomas Müller told ZDF. "I am completely done. I have cramps left and right. But I did not go off the pitch and it paid off. Physically, I am over the limit now. When you are 68 years old and you have a record season and then you win the Champions League and have the chance for the treble, you can be happy you are 68 and not 25. Because then you can retire."
As Heynckes, at 68, weighs up retirement, he can thank Robben for shedding a pesky schtick. Robben: the hero, at last.
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- Sports & Recreation
- Arjen Robben
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