Football: Bayern dance to music of Matthaus

An old general makes Munich's new generation look better than the 1970s champions.
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The Independent Online
A GENERATION ago, their names rolled off the tongue like a who's who of football legends. Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, Gerd "Der Bomber" Muller. Three times in the mid-1970s, they won European football's richest prize.

Beckenbauer, wearing the proudest of smiles, was there again, on Wednesday night as the current Bayern Munich vintage reached the final of the European Cup, which has now been revamped to include the Champions' League.

The influence of the Kaiser, now the club's president, still pervades Bavaria's footballing capital. He was, significantly, one of the first to be interviewed after the 1-0 victory that gave Bayern a 4-3 aggregate edge over Dynamo Kiev at the state-of-the-art Olympic stadium.

Beckenbauer's joy was understandable. He has waited 23 years for his beloved Bayern to emulate the achievements of the past. They tried and failed 12 years ago when Porto beat them in the final in Vienna. Now comes Barcelona, and United. "This victory is decisive for Bayern and for German football," Beckenbauer said.

Already the comparisons between the finalists have begun. But are there really any genuine match-ups? Certainly, in Oliver Kahn, Peter Schmeichel has a strong rival as Europe's best goalkeeper. Kahn's two fantastic early saves prevented a rampant Kiev from snatching the lead on Wednesday before the Ukrainians lost heart and their threat disintegrated.

There is no doubt either that in Ottmar Hitzfeld, who was in charge of the Borussia Dortmund side who won the trophy a couple of seasons back, Bayern have a coach with the same motivating skills as Alex Ferguson, and an acute football brain to go with it. The psychological warfare between the two of them over the next month should be interesting.

There, however, individual comparisons effectively end. Mario Basler's sensational first-half strike deserved to win the tie but Bayern are in the final primarily because of their qualities of commitment, concentration and determination rather than for any individual moments of magic. On Wednesday, they allowed Kiev to come at them, soaked up all that the Ukrainians had to offer and then went on to win more comfortably than the scoreline suggests.

The greatest threat to Manchester United, as far as outfield players are concerned, could come from someone who can hardly be termed an up- and-coming star but who is still spraying passes around to devastating effect when most players his age have gone into management, or retired altogether. Lothar Matthaus, at 38, continues to defy footballing logic and he read the game superbly on Wednesday. Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov, touted as Europe's most dangerous strike force, were snuffed out. Now for Cole and Yorke.

Bayern's general manager, Uli Honess, who played in the great side of the 1970s, believes that this team, packed with international players, is possibly even stronger. "To be truthful, there were only a few who were exceptional back then," he said. "There is more in-depth strength in today's team."

How many times have we heard throughout the season that the European Cup, in its current guise, is not worthy of being referred to as the Champions' League when it allows non-champions to take part? Will people utter the same complaints now that two of the Continent's most powerful teams have reached the final?

Try telling Bayern that they do not deserve to be taking on United next month. Just like Ferguson's team, the Germans believe they have got there on merit.

"Everyone here wanted to play United in what we think is the dream final," said Stefan Effenberg, the one-time enfant terrible of German football. "We were unlucky to have been drawn together at the group stage. Justice has been done."