Kings of Europe
Brilliant Germans win sixth European Cup
While not an emotional man by nature, Hansi Flick could not resist raising a hand to the skies in salute as Kingsley Coman’s bullet header cemented Bayern Munich’s place alongside Liverpool as six-time champions of Europe.
After all, it was the manager’s inspired late switch, dropping Ivan Perisic to the bench, that explained why the winger even started this final in the first place. Now, here was a young Frenchman, a former starlet for Paris St-Germain no less, sinking his former club in the most important match in their history.
We can dwell on the inspiration of Coman, the movement of Thomas Muller, the midfield brilliance of Thiago Alcantara in what was most likely his last game for Bayern but, in truth, this feat belonged primarily to Flick.
The club were at one of their lowest ebbs when he took over from Nico Kovac last November, fresh off a 5-1 defeat by Eintracht Frankfurt. Now, he has emulated Jupp Heynckes with an extraordinary treble, marking his 10-month transformation with the Bundesliga title, the German Cup, and now the most coveted prize of all. At 55, it is quite the return for a man who, until now, had spent much of his career on the margins.
Uli Hoeness, Bayern’s erstwhile president, was on the verge of tears in his read-and-white scarf on the touchline. He had entrusted Flick with a daunting project, and the coach has repaid him with perhaps the most exhilarating brand of football the venerable old club have known, lifting this trophy to complete a 21-match winning streak.
Even in an empty Estadio da Luz, Flick was not about to impose limits on his players’ revelries. “I didn’t announce a curfew for my boys,” he said. “If you win something, you have to celebrate properly. I have no idea how this is going to end.”
For all the Qatari billions behind PSG, it turned out that the champions of France allowed the wrong home-grown talent to leave. Coman spent almost a decade coming through their youth ranks, but left three years after the Gulf state’s takeover. There could be no consolation for PSG. Kylian Mbappe was toothless, and Neymar such a pale imitation of his usual self that he left crying into the stands. The stage was left to Bayern and Flick.
Over time, Champions League finals have struggled to match expectations, dissolving either into tentative shadowboxing or onesided beatdowns. This one was no exception, as PSG found their creativity blunted and Bayern toiled to find the attacking flair that had served up 42 goals in their past 10 European matches. For Flick and his men, though, there was no doubting the resonance of the evening. All that counted was the win.
Despite the bad blood PSG stir among their rivals, it was difficult not to feel sympathy for the fact that their first final had to take place in a deserted echo chamber. The oddity of it all was heightened by the spectacle in Paris of thousands of supporters flocking to the Parc des Princes, ignoring any socialdistancing rules to watch the match on a huge screen.
The message to them from Thomas Tuchel, the vanquished manager, was simple: “We left our heart and everything else on the pitch.”
Alas, it was not enough. The Bavarians’ menace lurked in every area, with even Thiago trying his luck from 25 yards. Far from subdued, the Parisians fashioned elegant attacks of their own. Latching on to the deftest pass from Leandro Paredes, Mbappe, who should have struck first time, paused just long enough for Joshua Kimmich to block his first shot in anger.
Robert Lewandowski was being kept strangely quiet, and yet his enduring gift is to conjure a chance from nothing. So it proved when Alphonso Davies’s cross from the left fell slightly behind him, encouraging him to swivel, set himself and angle a bouncing ball that a beaten Keylor Navas could only watch in gratitude as it rebounded off a post.
With grim inevitability, the histrionics of Neymar increased as the tension boiled. Bayern are not cynical types, but Serge Gnabry’s late clip on the Brazilian gave him his cue to writhe in mortal anguish. It was the injection of aggravation the game needed.
Neymar’s theatrics detracted from the mounting Bayern surge, led by the irrepressible Coman. No sooner did Kimmich float in the cutest cross from the right than the 24-year-old stood tall and drilled his header downwards, beyond the reach of the despairing Navas.
There was, ultimately, no need for a final flourish, with Bayern’s sheer obduracy winning the day. “It was a complete team performance,” Flick said. “When you think how we worked defensively until the 92nd minute, it was incredible.”
Bayern are the first team to win every game en route to club football’s greatest prize. Truly, they could not deserve it more.
Class apart: Manuel Neuer lifts the European Cup after Bayern Munich defeated Paris St-Germain in Lisbon last night to win the competition for the sixth time
Rising to the call: Kingsley Coman (second left) heads home Bayern Munich’s winner