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May 25, 2013

Champions League final goes to Bayern

LONDON -- Arjen Robben found redemption at Wembley Stadium.

Robben scored a go-ahead goal in the 89th minute to give Bayern Munich a 2-1 victory over German rival Borussia Dortmund on Saturday night in the Champions League final, ending four years of frustration for his team in club soccer's biggest tournament.

"I don't know how many times I dreamed about it," Robben said. "Everybody I spoke to before the game, I said, 'Today is going to be the night and we're going to do it.' To do it in the end is an unbelievable feeling."

Bayern had lost two of the past three Champions League finals.

A year earlier, Robben failed to convert a penalty in overtime as Bayern lost the final in its own stadium against Chelsea in a shootout. This time, when he carried the European Cup toward the thousands of celebrating fans in red and white and raised it over his head, he received undivided adulation.

"There are so many emotions, especially after where we came from," Robben said. "Last year was such a disappointment."

In a game that featured a slew of chances for both teams, Mario Mandzukic put Bayern ahead in the 60th minute, and Ilkay Gundogan tied it with a penalty kick 8 minutes later after defender Dante fouled Marco Reus.

Robben had missed two great chances in the first half, reviving memories of last year and of the 2010 World Cup final, when the winger missed the Netherlands' best chance during the loss to Spain.

Even Bayern great Franz Beckenbauer, the club's honorary president, said during halftime on television that "evidently in the big games he just can't score."

But this time, he could.

Robben ran onto Franck Ribery's backheeled flick-on in the area and calmly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller to give Bayern its first Champions League victory since 2001 and fifth overall. Bayern lost to Inter Milan in the 2010 final.

"That's three finals, and of course you don't want the stamp of a loser. You don't want that tag," Robben said. "It was a sense of 'finally.' It was unbelievable. I can't describe what's going through my mind."

Robben also set up the first goal for Bayern, taking a pass from Ribery and drawing Weidenfeller out before squaring for Mandzukic, who could hardly miss from a few yards.

But the lead didn't last long. Dante raised a foot into Reus's midsection, and Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli pointed to the penalty spot. Gundogan sent goalkeeper Manuel Neuer the wrong way before calmly slotting into the right side of the net.

Dortmund defender Neven Subotic became the first American to play in a Champions League final and made an outstanding sliding clearance on Thomas Mueller's wide shot to prevent a goal in the 72nd. The 24-year-old Subotic grew up in Salt Lake City and Bradenton, Fla., and played for the U.S. under-17 and under-20 teams before switching to the senior national team of Serbia, where he was born.

"It's hard to deal with the disappointment right now, especially if you concede the goal in the 89th minute," Dortmund defender Mats Hummels said. "In the end we had become a little tired, and Bayern took advantage."

Bayern, which won the Bundesliga by a record 25 points, improved to 3-0-2 against Dortmund this season. Bayern can complete a treble when it plays Stuttgart in the German Cup final next weekend.

Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes won his second Champions League trophy following a 1998 victory with Real Madrid. Bayern announced in January that he will be replaced after the season by former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.

"It is quite possible," Heynckes said through a translator, "that a new era might have begun under the aegis of Bayern Munich."

Guardiola's first chance at a trophy with Bayern will be the UEFA Super Cup in August against Europa League winner Chelsea -- likely to be managed then by outgoing Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.

"It's incredible what the team had achieved in the last few years. And today we were finally rewarded. We had to overcome a lot of setbacks," Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said. "There was so much pressure, it was enormous. After you lose two finals, if you lose again you don't know if you'll get another chance. The pressure was so great, I've never felt so much pressure before. The international titles were missing. We never won a big international title for this generation."

For Dortmund, it's another bitter runner-up finish to its main rival, having seen Bayern end its two-year hold on the Bundesliga title.

"We are very proud to have given them a good contest," Weidenfeller said. "But we didn't manage to win. We gave our best. We'll be back next season."

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