Whoever wins the 2012 Champions League, can say they did more than a little suffering in pursuit of the great, most draining prize in club football. And had Jose Mourinho emerged successfully from last night's penalty shoot-out between his Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he could have claimed to have done at least his share in a city which used to believe it owned the great title.
After the siege of Nou Camp, it had been the rapier duel of the Bernabeu. The exchanges were often so brilliant, that a heroic Chelsea must have felt that their extraordinary victory over Barcelona had carried them from one logically impossible task to another.
Certainly had they been invited to pick their opponents for the Munich final, they might have elected to do it by using straws. Which was the shorter one, Real or Bayern? It wasn't even a debate in the first surge of Cristiano's Ronaldo brilliance. In 14 minutes he had scored twice, once from the spot, and Bayern's slender lead from the first leg had been engulfed.
Yet if Bayern also seemed like prime candidates for the Champions League last rites, the idea was exposed soon enough as a gross under-estimation of the team the old Bundesliga fox Jupp Heynckes has shaped around the attacking brilliance of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry and Mario Gomez. Between them they sent a series of shock waves through the great stadium and when Robben's penalty brought the aggregate score and away goals level you might just have heard a busker in the Puerto del Sol.
The quality of the ensuing football inevitably reminded you of the huge chasm Chelsea had crossed 24 hours earlier they when neutralised one of the two football cultures that last night provided a match of such consistently thrilling rhythm and bite.
Certainly those who regarded as a near certainty the final duel which Mourinho and Robert Di Matteo, the man who has so brilliantly exploited the enduring character of the team built by the Special One, were forced into some profound re-appraisal. Included in it, there had to be new respect for the bullish pre-match demeanour of Heynckes. He spoke of his bone-deep conviction that Bayern had the means to build on their lead.
There would be no hanging and holding and so it proved as the first extraordinary impact of Ronaldo began to wane. Robben was especially filled with self-belief and some of his inter-changes with Ribery brought an increasingly sombre expression to Mourinho's face. The fluency of Bayern no doubt persuaded him that he needed a little new momentum of his own and the result was the appearance of Kaka. The Brazilian made some runs of promise but he could hardly lift the pressure built so relentlessly by Bayern.
Before extra time Mourinho, pictured, dashed off a few diagrams. It had seemed so easy for a man who appeared to be closing in on another level of his reputation for winning teams at the very highest point of the game. Now he was obliged to scuffle, like the rest of football humanity, for a desperately needed win.Reuse content