KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Bayern Munich’s experience trumped Paris Saint-Germain’s expensive ambition albeit by only one goal in the Lisbon climax to the sadly and weirdly unique UEFA Champions League campaign.
The decisive twist vindicated a selection masterstroke from Bayern coach Hansi Flick. His decision to replace Ivan Perisic on the left wing with Kingsley Coman paid off when the 24-year-old Frenchman headed the only goal against his old club just before the hour.
The German champions had dominated the competition in the mid-1970s but had not laid hands on the trophy since landing their fifth triumph in 2013. PSG, financed by the Gulf state of Qatar, had never even reached the final. Indeed, the last and only previous French winners were Marseille back in 1993.
That wait must go on.
The duel in the Estadio do Benfica brought to a close the Final Eight tournament which European federation UEFA had clamped on to the end of an extra-long season interrupted and almost wrecked by the tragic havoc of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Europe’s football had been halted for three months in late spring thus Lisbon on August 23 witnessed the occasion which had been allocated originally to Istanbul on May 30.
No Spanish or English or Italian club in sight: instead the Franco-German duel with both clubs coached by Germans in Bayern’s Flick and PSG’s Thomas Tuchel.
Flick’s achievement is magnificent.
He had been promoted from No2 in place of sacked Nico Kovac last autumn with Bayern fourth in the Bundesliga after a 5-1 thrashing by Eintracht Frankfurt. ‘His’ Bayern landed a eighth successive domestic title, have not lost a match since December and became the first to win all their outings (11) in the Champions League with a 21st successive victory in all competitions.
From caretaker to king of Europe.
Bayern also ended term with a tally of 159 goals, the product of a team ethic which proved superior in Lisbon to the gifted individualism of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, neither of whom found their A-game.
All the pre-match expectations of entertainment were soon dampened by a tight first half with only a handful of openings.
Neymar wasted the first after bursting through in the 17th minute only for his low shot to be blocked by the body of keeper Manuel Neuer. Bayern’s response, four minutes later, saw Robert Lewandowski jab a shot against Keylor Navas’s right-hand post.
Lewandowski, with 15 goals to his credit in Bayern’s campaign, then had a close-range header saved at second attempt by Navas.
The game finally spluttered to goalmouth life in the last moments of the first half. Mbappe should put PSG ahead after a defensive blunder but his weak shot was gratefully grabbed by Neuer. Bayern, on the counter, claimed a penalty in vain after Coman fell under an arm on his shoulder from a despairing Thilo Kehrer.
Coman was the most threatening forward on the pitch. He proved the point by heading the only goal in the 59th-minute from Joshua Kimmich’s perfectly-judged right-wing cross. He was thus the first Frenchman to score the winner in a Champions final since Zinedine Zidane in 2002.
The last halfhour grew increasingly ragged but that suited Bayern perfectly as PSG failed to marshal a capable response. Neymar pulled one cross-shot wide but grew increasingly frustrated as he – and his team – saw the biggest club prize elude them.
Tuchel said: “Bayern had a bit more confidence with the ball and there were some very dangerous moments for us. But I had the feeling before the game that maybe the first goal would decide the match.”
Paris: Navas – Kehrer, Thiago Silva, Kimpembe, Bernat (Kurzawa 80) – Herrera (Draxler 72), Marquinhos, Paredes (Verratti 65) – Di María (Choupo-Moting 80), Neymar, Mbappé. Coach: Tuchel.
Bayern: Neuer – Kimmich, Boateng (Sule 25), Alaba, Davies – Goretzka, Thiago Alcantara (Tolisso 86) – Gnabry (Coutinho 68), Müller, Coman (Perisic 68) – Lewandowski. Coach: Flick.
Attendance: — (closed doors). Ref: Orsato (It).