Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley is going to be a special occasion. Not only will the FA celebrate its 150th year hosting by hosting the final for the second time in three seasons, but Europe’s most prestigious trophy will celebrate its 20th anniversary since the rebranding from “European Cup” to “Champions League”.
The Champions League as we know it today is a world away from the inaugural edition that began on August 19th, 1992 when Skonto Riga beat Faroese club KI Klaksvik in the first of the four preliminary round ties.
The original format, in which only league champions were allowed, included two knockout rounds with the remaining teams to be subsequently split in two groups of four, with the winner of each group securing a spot in the final. The group stage was originally known as Champions League, a specific phase within the European Cup, rather than a competition in its own right.
Two decades later, it’s impossible not too feel either incurably nostalgic about the romantic nature or the tournament or absolutely flabbergasted by its relative simplicity, particularly when one gazes at the current version of the tournament, a money-making machine whose clogs have been oiled to perfection since 1993.
For the first time in European Cup/Champions League history, the final will be an all-German affair, meaning that Germany will secure its 7th European Cup, moving one clear of Holland – but well behind Spain (13) and joint-second Italy and England (12) – on the table.
Two of the three finals contested by teams from the same countries have ended on penalties, with Milan edging Juventus 3-2 in 2003 and Manchester United beating Chelsea 6-5 five years later under Moscow’s torrential downpour.
Penalties have provided joy and agony in equal measure for Bayern for their first, and so far only, triumph in the current format of the Champions League came as they beat Valencia on penalties on 2001, before having their hearts thwarted on home soil by a Didier Drogba-inspired Chelsea last season.
Should Dortmund lift their second Champions League, Bayern would become the first team to lose consecutive finals since Juventus twice stumbled on the last hurdle in 1997 (against Dortmund, incidentally) and 1998.
With 29 and 23 goals scored Bayern and Dortmund boast the best and the third-best goalscoring record respectively in this year’s Champions League and, given the breathtaking performances with whom the disposed of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the semifinals, Saturday’s showdown has been billed as an advert for entertaining football.
Unlike other competitions, where deciding encounters can be tight affairs, Champions League finals have often proved an entertaining affair.
In the 20 years since its inaugural final, the Champions League has seen, on average, 2.5 goals scored in its final act and on five occasions the team who found the net first ended up losing.
Bayern Munich threw their lead away twice against English opponents – against Manchester United in 1999 and Chelsea in 2013 – while Valencia and Arsenal suffered similar fate in 2001 and 2006, as did AC Milan in 2005 after imploding against Liverpool.
Dortmund, meanwhile, have been dealt a major blow with Munich-bound Mario Gotze ruled out from the final through injury but can find solace in the history books.
Bayern Munich have already secured this season’s Bundesliga, which they also did in 1997 when Dortmund lifted the Champions League. Meanwhile in 1999 the Bavarians, as is the case this season, were on the verge of a domestic treble only to be denied in the most extraordinary fashion by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Luckily football isn’t an exact science, but expect these numbers to be wheeled out on Saturday.