Probably the best stretch of soccer the world will see before the 2014 World Cup will kick off Saturday with the 2012 Champions League final between Bayern Munich of the German Bundesliga and Chelsea of the English Premier League.
Following that is the start of the monthlong European Championship on June 8.
For those not intimately familiar with soccer, the Champions League is like the NFL's Super Bowl — it matches the best club teams from around Europe. The European Championship is more like the World Cup or an Olympic soccer tournament in that it features top countries facing off.
Bayern, the winner of Group A, got there with an upset of La Liga champion Real Madrid in the semifinals. The teams split the two meetings, each winning 2-1 in their home stadium, but Bayern advanced to the final 3-1 on penalties in the April 25 match in Madrid.
This is the ninth Champions League final for Bayern. It was last in the championship in 2010, losing 2-0 to Italian club Internazionale. Bayern has won the Champions League four times, tied for the fourth-most of any club. The last was in 2001 when the final was held in Milan.
Bayern is the first team to contest the Champions League final at its own stadium, and that should be a decisive advantage. Thus Bayern is a minus-125 favorite at Bovada. On the goal line at minus-1, Bayern is plus-140.
On the positive side for Bayern, the last time the Champions League final was held in Germany and a Bundesliga club was in the championship game, Borussia Dortmund brought home the title in 1997 in Munich. What's not a positive sign for Bayern, which finished second this year to Dortmund in the Bundesliga standings, was that it was just stomped by Dortmund last week 5-2 in the German Cup final.
Bayern is led by Mario Gomez, who is second in Champions League scoring with 12 goals, two behind leader Lionel Messi of Barcelona.
Chelsea, the winner of Group E, advanced to the final by upsetting defending Champions League title-holder Barcelona in the semifinals 3-2 on aggregate goals. This is just the second Champions League final for Chelsea, which lost to fellow Premier League member Manchester United in the 2008 final in Moscow. This is the sixth time in the past seven years at least one EPL club has made the final — only two have brought the title home.
This would cap an up-and-down season for Chelsea. It finished a disappointing sixth in the recently completed Premier League standings but did beat Liverpool on May 5 for the FA Cup. Chelsea, which is a plus-330 underdog, has been led in Champions League play by Didier Drogba's five goals.
Fans should expect a low-scoring match as there have been more than three total goals in the final just twice since 1998. One was last year's 3-1 win by Barcelona over Manchester United. The over/under for goals is 2.5, with the under a slight favorite.
The favored result at the book is Bayern Munich winning 1-0 at 11-2 odds. Bayern to win by one goal is the favored margin of victory at 11-4. A draw (90 minutes plus injury time) is also at 11-4. The game won't end in a draw as the teams would eventually go to a penalty shootout. That the final goes to penalties is at plus-650, and that it doesn't is a huge minus-1400 favorite. No final has gone to penalties since 2008.
Could we see a rare hat trick in the final? That has only happened three times, and not since 1969. Bayern's Gomez has the shortest odds to score three goals on Saturday at 20-1, followed by teammate Arjen Robben at 28-1. Drogba has Chelsea's shortest odds at 66-1.
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