For German football fans, days don't get any bigger. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the best two Bundesliga teams, are battling it out for the most coveted trophy in European soccer. Who’s got the upper hand?
Bayern Munich took the Bundesliga spoils this season, having clinched the league title at record speed, well before the season was over, for the 23rd time. They are coming up against Dortmund, this year's distant number two who beat Bayern to the Bundesliga the last two years in a row. Both squads boast half a dozen German internationals and both teams have taken some notable scalps on their Champions League Road to Wembley.
But that is where the similarities end.
Turning defeat into motivation
Bayern Munich has developed something of a routine in the Champions League: This year is the third time in four years that they have reached the final. But then things tend to go wrong: In 2010 they lost 2-0 against Inter Milan and last year they were beaten by Chelsea on penalties in their own Alllianz-Arena stadium. That shootout defeat was bitter and painful.
Schweinsteiger's devastating miss from the spot showed that Germans can lose to the English on penalties
"Personally I managed to draw a lot of motivation for this season from my memory of that defeat," said Bastian Schweinsteiger, the man who missed Bayern's decisive fifth and final penalty against Chelsea, this week. "I think some of my teammates feel the same," he continued explaining that the players are especially set on making sure their coach Jupp Heynckes ends his Bundesliga career in glory.
The goal is to make sure the 68-year-old Bayern coach can crown his career by winning "the triple" – the Bundesliga title, the German Cup and the Champions League.
In Wembley, coach Heynckes can almost field his best squad. Only midfielder Toni Kroos and defender Holger Badstuber are injured. So pundits are expecting no surprises in the Bayern line-up.
After a record breaking Bundesliga season, having scored 11 unanswered Champions League goals since the quarterfinals, and after thrashing powerful Barcelona in the semis, it is not surprising that the Bayern players are brimming with confidence and firmly believe that the key to success is in their hands.
"It is up to us to play to our full potential," Schweinsteiger told journalists in a show of determination. "Of course we respect Dortmund and know what they are capable of, but I am convinced that whether we win or lose the Champions League is completely up to us."
The Bayern players are ready. "Staying focused" has become their mantra. Bayern has been craving this title for so long, they believe they deserve it and it is time to bring the trophy home for the first time since 2001.
Not afraid of the big bad wolf
In Dortmund it's a different story: It seems everyone is still rubbing their eyes in disbelief and can't quite grasp that they have actually reached the Champions League final after their ignominious continental campaign last time around.
"Normally you have to take one step at a time to reach your goal," coach Jürgen Klopp said recently. "But we just made a giant step which nobody expected at the beginning of the season. But here we are now and we're not going to chicken out, we'll rise to the challenge and play football.”
And Dortmund has already proven that playing football is definitely something they can do. In this Champions League season they have excelled against big teams, winning the "group of death" by beating Dutch champions Ajax Amsterdam, English Premiership holders Manchester City, and outgoing Spanish champion Real Madrid. None of these big teams could stop the outgoing German champions. A concerted team effort was the key to success for Dortmund, in combination with some exceptional individual talent - like that of striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored four goals in the first leg of the semi-final against Real Madrid.
No Götze is no excuse
Lewandowski is set to score again in Wembley, although might well be playing for his future employers: He seems to want out of Dortmund, and is rumored to be Bayern-bound either this summer or next - although Dortmund might seek to offload him somewhere, anywhere, other than Bavaria if the Pole really is set on leaving.
Another of Dortmund's pivotal players is definitely bound for Munich: 20-year-old Mario Götze, an exceptionally talented attacking midfielder and home-grown talent, will transfer to Bayern for some 37 million euros this summer. Götze's departure prompted Dortmund fans around Germany to berate him for defecting to Bayern. And now, to add injury to the insults from some supporters, Götze will miss the Champions League final and a chance to play his last Dortmund game against his future employers.
Football experts are debating what difference his absence will really make: Götze has missed many a game due to injury in the last two years, and most times the team has managed fine without him. He was absent in last season's German Cup final, for example, but Dortmund still managed to beat Bayern Munich 5-2.
Dortmund's players are putting on a show of defiance. Götze aside, all the others are ready to play. Even defender Mats Hummels has managed to recover in time.
"Before you can do the right thing, you need to think the right thing, and people's way of thinking is something that you can influence and that is what we will concentrate on," Jürgen Klopp mused philosophically in a press conference this week explaining his preparation for the match. "I will do everything I can to make sure that each and every one of us really and truly believes that we can win."
The psychological factor
No doubt about it: If Dortmund manages to win the final, that will be an extraordinary achievement. But that can also be said if they lose: just reaching the final is already a big success. Dortmund, many experts say, has nothing to lose, they have nothing to fear.
With Bayern that is different; they are under pressure, terrified of losing again. "If you lose the final three times, you're labelled the big loser – and rightly so," Bayern's attacking midfielder Thomas Müller, never one to mince his words, declared ahead of his team's departure for London.
Bayern bring the most international experience with them and have surely been buoyed by their spectacular performance in the Bundesliga and German Cup. As well as winning the league by 25 points, Bayern eliminated Dortmund from the domestic cup quarterfinals and have not lost in four encounters with their German rivals this season. But in this Champions League final the stakes are perhaps higher for Bayern, and that could play in the favor of the underdogs from Dortmund.