Why will we never see a Champions League final like Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund again?

As the two Champions League finalists set off for London, the contrasting mood between the two sides was enough. For Real Madrid, this is a sense of duty. There is certainly excitement about returning to this stage, but there is also an awareness that this is simply what they are doing. They go to these games and win them. For Borussia Dortmund, there is a sense of true wonder. Manager Edin Terzic described it as a “dream”. This is the third Champions League final in their history and the first in 11 years. Many of their players realize they may never get that opportunity again. For club player Marco Reus, this could be the last chance to properly realize his talent and win a major trophy.

Although this feeling is rare for Dortmund, it is actually not so rare for this masterpiece. The Champions League final may be the biggest global event in club football – and perhaps in all of sport, after the World Cup final – but it has rarely seen a showdown between Europe’s two best teams. They have tended to arrive early in the knockout stages, usually featuring in Madrid and Manchester City recently. The curiosity goes back even further, through what was one of the last unpredictable things in the Champions League. In the 11 years since Dortmund’s last appearance at this stage, there have been six finals in which one player has been favorite to win. This is certainly the second in a row, after Inter Milan’s shock 1-0 defeat against City last season.

It may also be the last year of this. Starting with next season’s expanded ‘Super Champions League’, the entire knockout stages will be seeded after the first round’s open table. So, while it is possible to find Real Madrid and Arsenal on the same side of the draw again, it is unlikely that you will find Madrid, City, Arsenal and Bayern Munich on the same side. Or their equivalent as the top four teams next season. It will certainly be more difficult for teams that are not at elite level, while it represents just another way in which elite football is structured and structured.

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Maybe that’s why this final should be enjoyed, in the same way the Dortmund players look at it. If this is the last of an era, this match represents an extreme approximation. The simple numbers say enough, before we get into bigger issues like financing.

Real Madrid are eyeing a 15th Champions League and sixth in 11 years, while Carlo Ancelotti could win his fifth title as coach. Dortmund hopes to achieve only its second title, and its first in 27 years.

This is reflected in the relative gap between the league positions. With Real Madrid, the Spanish champions, and Dortmund in fifth place in the Bundesliga, this is the largest gap between the positions of the finalists in the league since the establishment of the Champions League in 1992. Only two previous finals have matched this gap: Bayern Munich against Valencia in 2001. And Valencia in 2001. Bayern vs. Chelsea in 2012. The first against the fifth and the second against the sixth, respectively. The latter produced an ‘upset’ but Chelsea’s long-term strength ensured it was nowhere near what a Dortmund win would be like here.

Borussia Dortmund performed admirably in the Champions League knockout rounds, but will face a tough battle against Real Madrid in the final.
Borussia Dortmund performed admirably in the Champions League knockout rounds, but will face a tough battle against Real Madrid in the final. (Getty Images)

This gap has created a somewhat strange build-up to this match for the Champions League final. It doesn’t sound epic, although that won’t be the case for the tens of thousands of Dortmund fans who travel. Perhaps we could call it the 2002 World Cup Syndrome. Although shocks and surprises are pleasant, they often have a negative impact on the final match. There is a very big gap at this point. Therefore, very few people look at this match and expect anything other than a Madrid win. The anticipation is mostly about how long Dortmund can survive; How close they are to achieving something big.

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Ancelotti will not allow Real Madrid to think this way, of course. He did point out how people would have said the same thing about Dortmund’s run to this final by now. The German team was probably supposed to be eliminated from the tournament by Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain. Luck is a big part of why they’re here, along with being on the more forgiving side of the draw.

Good luck has an emotional momentum of its own; He can lift teams to greater heights on the big occasion.

It’s just that no one tends to go higher than Real Madrid in these matches, and that applies to the great luck they have as well. Ancelotti’s side might have lost their last final to Liverpool in 2022, had it not been for Thibaut Courtois’ superiority in goal. Madrid won again. This is what they do. For this reason there is an additional psychological hurdle. Dortmund doesn’t just have to overcome Real Madrid’s current quality. They also have to overcome the knowledge of their record in the finals.

Real Madrid have not lost in a Champions League final since 1981
Real Madrid have not lost in a Champions League final since 1981 (Archives of the Palestinian Authority)

Real Madrid have not lost in this match since defeat to Liverpool in 1981. Since then, they have won eight consecutive Champions League finals. That’s more finals than any other European club in its entire history, with the exception of Milan, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Juventus and Barcelona.

But that record has to end at some point, and this year’s Champions League final is likely to be a strange match. Both teams prefer to stand. Terzic made Dortmund more realistic. Ancelotti would prefer to release Vinicius Junior and Rodrigo on the break. In between, Jude Bellingham was carrying an injury.

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The English midfielder faces his renewed compatriot Jadon Sancho. The on-loan winger was impressive for Dortmund in the semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain, but it will likely take something beyond that performance to turn the final in the Germans’ favour. Real Madrid have plenty of class and will be able to create more holes in Dortmund’s porous backline. Maybe their best hope is to keep it tight as long as possible and then hope for some sort of knockout magic.

That was also the theme of last weekend’s FA Cup final. Manchester United surprises Manchester City. Dortmund will need more time to shock Madrid, but it could happen.

Both Wembley and UEFA can handle the final smoothly. EU’s last event here was the disastrous Euro 2020 final. The last two Champions League finals have been logistical nightmares, and the 2022 match in Paris was fortunate to avoid fatalities.

UEFA are desperate to avoid dangerous scenes outside the 2022 Champions League final in Paris
UEFA are desperate to avoid dangerous scenes outside the 2022 Champions League final in Paris (AP)

The Football Association and UEFA have embraced all of this. Another outer perimeter is planned to be built, and there are improved gates. The hope is that everything goes smoothly.

On the pitch, Real Madrid will just aim to do what they always do. Dortmund aims to give us something we haven’t seen in years.

It can be said that the Champions League needs that. Another win for Real Madrid would be just the same, and the record hardly means much more. For Dortmund, it will be everything.

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