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Champions League final pits top coaches, World Cup stars

Inter Milan's Jose Mourinho and Bayern Munich's Louis van Gaal to match wits Saturday in a final that will crown a historic champion.

May 21, 2010|By Grahame L. Jones

One way or another, soccer history will be made in Madrid on Saturday.

The European Champions League final (11:30 a.m. PDT, Channel 11, FSE) will not only match two of the continent's great teams, Inter Milan of Italy and Bayern Munich of Germany, but also two of the sport's most successful coaches, Inter's Jose Mourinho and Bayern's Louis van Gaal.

More to the point, whichever team wins will become only the sixth in history to complete the treble of league championship, domestic cup and European Cup.

The only clubs to have managed that feat are Scotland's Celtic in 1967, the Netherlands' Ajax Amsterdam in 1972 and PSV Eindhoven in 1988, England's Manchester United in 1999 and Spain's Barcelona in 2009.

Bayern Munich, a four-time European champion last won the tournament in 2001. Already this season, it has won the German Bundesliga title and the German Cup.

Inter Milan, a two-time European champion, last won the tournament in 1965. Already this season, it has won the Italian Serie A and the Italian Cup.

"Inter fans have waited a lifetime for this moment," said Inter striker Samuel Eto'o, who is headed to the World Cup with Cameroon next month.

There are subplots aplenty.

Eto'o can become only the second player in history to score a goal in three European Cup finals, having already done so for Barcelona in 2006 and 2009.

Both coaches have won the tournament before. Van Gaal, who is Dutch, did so with Ajax Amsterdam in 1995. Mourinho, who is Portuguese, won with FC Porto in 2004.

According to Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, who played for Mourinho at Chelsea and now plays for Van Gaal, the coaches couldn't be more different in their approach.

Van Gaal "is a coach who wants to play pretty football, he wants to play nice football," Robben said. "Mourinho is a purer winning coach. He has his tactics always ready. He doesn't think too much about playing nice football. He just concentrates on winning games."

Winning will be much on Mourinho's mind at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Saturday. For him, the final is an audition of sorts. Madrid almost certainly will be the next stop in his coaching career.

Saturday will also mark a return to Madrid for Robben and his Dutch national team sidekick, Inter midfielder Wesley Sneijder. Both were deemed surplus to requirements by Real Madrid last summer when Real splashed out $340 million on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka only to end the season empty-handed.

Finally, Saturday's game, the official end of the European season, offers an intriguing preview of South Africa 2010 because both teams are packed with World Cup-bound players.

Bayern features seven German internationals, including Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose, as well as the Netherlands' Robben and Mark van Bommel. France's Franck Ribery is suspended and will miss the final.

Inter Milan features Argentina's Diego Milito and Walter Samuel, Brazil's Julio Cesar, Maicon and Lucio, as well as the Netherlands' Sneijder and Cameroon's Eto'o.

In many ways, it will be Europe's offense against South America's defense. But it's really Mourinho versus Van Gaal.

"This game is the most important in the world," Mourinho said. "It is even bigger than the World Cup because the teams in it are at a higher level than national teams, who can't buy the best players."

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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