April 29, 2010
Posted: 927 GMT
The Champions League final - a guts-and-glory game to decide who is the continent's greatest football team - is nigh, and this year's edition, to be played in Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, has all the ingredients needed for a classic tussle.
In one corner, the blue and blacks of Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan side, champions of Italy and conquerors of reigning champions Barcelona. In the other corner, the read and whites of the newly crowned champions of Germany, Bayern Munich. Led by the dominating figure of Louis Van Gaal, the Bavarian giants boast an array of talents that have them back in the race for the continental crown for the first time in nine years.
Inter too have much to feel pleased about. Mourinho has never been backwards about coming forwards, especially when telling the world about his achievements, but the diminutive Portuguese coach has taken great pride in getting his side this far.
This is a man who - despite having never played at the top level - has turned three different clubs in three different countries into champions (Porto in Portugal, Chelsea in England and Inter Milan in Italy), not to mention capturing the UEFA Cup and the Champions League title.
Passionate and always provocative, the 47-year-old has become synonymous with success, so could the current form of his side see him once again crowned king of Europe?
The football played by his Inter side has not always displayed the aesthetic beauty or the artistry of the Barcelona team he helped to defeat. But Mourinho showed, as he did previously with Porto in 2004, that a team galvanized by strength of purpose and collective will can overcome even the awesome talents of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Inter triumphed in front of 95,000 baying fans at the Camp Nou, which for a man who once worked at the club under Van Gaal was a victory to be savored.
The scene is set then for a scintillating final come May 22, when Bayern will aim to clinch their fifth European title and Inter will look to win their first final for 38 years. Two teams with a rich array of talent will lock horns in a fight that will captivate fans around the world, the battle will also pitch two coaches of vast experience against one another.
In Louis Van Gaal, Bayern have a coach who admits to "arrogance," has great tactical insight and fears absolutely no-one. And why should he? His clinched both the domestic title and cup and proved more than well-equipped for the challenge posed by United in the quarterfinals.
Van Gaal too has a career rich in silverware. The 58-year-old is a multiple champion (having previously taken Ajax and AZ Alkmaar to the Eredivisie title in Holland before clinching titles with Barcelona in Spain), not to mention having won both the UEFA Cup and Champions League in the 1990s.
The Dutchman also has coached his national side and is familiar with the pressures of managing an aggressive press and big egos; Mourinho, while familiar with the latter, has yet to test his mettle at such level. Van Gaal has been there, seen it and done it - and more importantly, he wants to do it again.
The Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid is a stage befitting the magnitude of the 2010 final of the Champions League, but it is hard to call which colossus of the game will emerge victorious from the gladiatorial battle.