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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
With Euro 2008 now less than 100 days away and UEFA showing no signs of inexplicably kicking anyone out of the tournament to make room for England, it’s time for acceptance. Naturally, this acceptance will come easier to you than it will to me, which is why I decided to get the heads-up on a few of the probable stars of this summer’s competition by tuning into Bayern Munich’s cup clash with city rivals 1860 Munich. The more I whet my appetite with European superstars, the less I’ll fall to my knees, wailing in anguish and cursing the name of McClaren. That’s the theory anyway.

I couldn’t have picked a better place to start. Bayern Munich responded to missing out on a Champions League place in much the same way as Ivana Trump responded to heartache. They went shopping. In came a host of players including Frank Ribery, Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose. Their rivals, 1860, were relegated from the Bundesliga in 2004 and have never recovered from the shock. This really should have been a very one-sided, Chelsea versus QPR kind of clash, but the underdogs had other ideas.

For all their quality, Bayern just couldn’t break their opponents down. Young winger Tony Kroos had the best chance to score, stealing the ball away from a defender, but firing over from the edge of the box. The talented playmaker is touted as the next big thing in German football, though Euro 2008 might be a little too early for him. Kroos only has to look towards his team-mate Lukas Podolski to see the dangers of premature hyperbole. Podolski was 2005’s ‘next big thing’ and this was a rare start for the striker who has struggled to settle at the Allianz Arena. He didn’t capitalise on the chance to impress, wasting possession and failing to trouble the 1860 goalkeeper.

His strike-partner, the gigantic Toni, has had no problems settling into life at Germany’s biggest club. The former Fiorentina hitman has scored 13 goals already and if he hadn’t have been so selfless, he might have added another here. Rising at the far post in the first half, the Italian elected to nod the ball back to a team-mate rather than go for goal and the chance was lost. Toni is a constant handful for any defence, but he didn’t like 1860’s physical approach and repeatedly retaliated to nudges and shirt-pulls, eventually earning himself two yellow cards and an early bath. He grinned as he left the pitch, but with the score locked at 0-0 and extra-time looming, manager Ottmar Hitzfeld didn’t return his smile.

Thank heavens then for Franck Ribery. On as a second-half substitute, the French winger was a real threat. He’s as quick as Tottenham’s Aaron Lennon, but with more technique and close control. He’s also got guts. With a penalty shoot-out looking certain, Bayern won a fortunate spot-kick in the 120th minute. Ribery stepped up and slammed it home, but the referee refused to allow it to stand. Two Bayern players had charged into the box for the rebound, invalidating the kick. Without a flicker of emotion, Ribery took the ball, placed it on the spot again and, waiting for the goalkeeper to hurl himself to his right, simply lobbed it gently down the middle of the goal. It was straight out of the Cantona handbook.

Bayern progressed then to the Semi-Final, but Hitzfeld still wasn’t going to smile about it. The veteran manager knew that he had only been moments from humiliation. Ribery had no such concerns. Despite being kicked across the pitch by his furious opponents for over an hour, he celebrated jubilantly at the final whistle. Will he be doing the same in Vienna on June 29? You certainly wouldn’t rule it out

STAR PLAYER - Franck Ribery (France)