Bayern Munich and Juventus share a compelling rivalry in the modern era
What do you do the day after you've won an Olympic gold medal? If you're Boris Becker, you go watch Bayern Munich play a preseason preparation match. On Aug. 8, 1992, roughly 30 hours after the tennis star triumphed alongside Michael Stich in Barcelona in the men's doubles, Becker received a standing ovation from the fans in Munich when his presence at the friendly against Italian giants Juventus was announced.
Becker's favourite team then took an early lead through Olaf Thon, whose first-time shot from the edge of the box wrong-footed goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi. Midway through the first half, though, Juve's Paolo Di Canio struck from a distance. The ball hit his German teammate, Andreas Möller, and took a wicked deflection. Now it was Bayern's goalkeeper, Raimond Aumann, who was wrong-footed. When the stadium announcer credited Möller, a former Dortmund and Frankfurt player, with tying the game, the 20,000 supporters at the Olympic Stadium booed their hearts out.
Bayern must have hoped for a slightly bigger crowd that day, but attendance was hurt by the fact that the game was live on television. That was highly unusual in the early 1990s. Then again, this was not your usual friendly. The game was billed as the belated testimonial for club icon Klaus Augenthaler, who had retired the previous summer after more than 400 league appearances for Bayern. That was the reason celebrities such as Becker and football luminaries such as Jupp Heynckes were in the stands.
But there was another thing that made this match so attractive for German television: It was the first game between Bayern and Juventus. In 1992, even before the Champions League vastly increased the number of matches among the European elite, this was a weird piece of trivia. Juventus had a reputation for drawing German opposition in European competitions: Between 1968 and 1992, they met no fewer than 10 sides from West or East Germany.
The Bianconeri also had a reputation for struggling against those teams. To cite one example, the famous Bayern vs. Dynamo Dresden tie in the 1973-74 European Cup came about only because Dresden had surprisingly knocked Juve out in the previous round. Yet Juventus had never been drawn against the biggest and best team in Germany, so Augenthaler's testimonial had to make do for the moment.
Eight minutes before the break, Roberto Baggio set Di Canio up with a brilliant through ball, and Juventus took the lead. To add insult to injury and ruin Augenthaler's farewell, Möller added two more goals after the restart, which gave him a hat trick and his team a 4-1 win.
"I see this as a testimonial, but at the same time, it was an acid test [for Bayern]," Augenthaler said after the game. Sitting in the dressing room drinking wheat beer, he added: "I'm still annoyed."
There would be more Bavarian annoyance in the years to come, as fortune refused to lift the strange curse of the draw. While the Italians seemed to play Borussia Dortmund all the time -- the two clubs met seven times in the UEFA Cup and the Champions League between 1992 and 1997 -- Juventus and Bayern were kept apart.
Preparation matches had to compensate for this lack of proper competitive games. In July 1996, Bayern and Juventus were invited to Switzerland and played in a small tournament to celebrate Zurich FC's 100th anniversary. Again Bayern, coached by former Juventus boss Giovanni Trapattoni, came up short. Marcel Witeczek put the Germans ahead, but Alessandro Del Piero equalised, and Nicola Amoruso sealed Juve's win.
A year later, in August 1997, the two teams met in San Benedetto del Tronto, a city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. In the opening stages, Del Piero missed a penalty, but Bayern couldn't capitalize. On 22 minutes, Didier Deschamps set Filippo Inzaghi up, and the striker scored the only goal of the game. An Italian match report said "Bayern appeared weak in attack and sometimes confused in defence," and the Germans suffered their third defeat in as many encounters with the Old Lady.
Ironically, none other than Felix Magath was in charge of Bayern when the curse was finally broken. In late August 2004, the Munich giants were put into a Champions League group with the Bianconeri. After the draw, Magath alluded to his winning goal for Hamburg against Juventus in the 1983 European Cup final when he said, "I'm happy that I can at last play against Juventus again. I only have the best of memories of Juventus, but they don't have them of me."
Magath's image in Turin was about to improve, though. Juve won a dour home leg, thanks to a left-footed Pavel Nedved strike deep in the second half. Two weeks later, in Munich, the Italians left it even later. In the final minute of a scoreless game, Zlatan Ibrahimovic made fools of Torsten Frings and Owen Hargreaves when he suddenly ran into the box with the ball at his feet. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn saved his shot but couldn't hold on to the ball, and he presented Del Piero with the easiest of tap-ins.
It was Juve's fifth win on the trot over Bayern, and they maintained their perfect record. Since then, though, things have changed. They have changed so thoroughly that when the Champions League draw in February paired the two sides in this season's round of 16, Bayern's official website referred to the Germans as "Juve's bogey team."
It's a bold claim, though Bayern have a few stats to back it up. Since Ibrahimovic shimmied past Frings and Hargreaves with stylish ease, Bayern and Juventus have played seven games against each other. Bayern won four of them and lost only one.
The most famous of these triumphs was not the victory that broke the spell. That was the Champions League group game in October 2005, when a Sebastian Deisler strike and Martin Demichelis header in the first half put Bayern beyond Juve's reach before Ibrahimovic pulled one back for the visitors in the dying seconds. Nor was it the 2-0 win in April 2013 in Turin, the first (and still only) Bianconeri defeat at the Juventus Stadium by a non-Italian team.
No, the Juve game that looms largest in Bavarian lore is the match in Turin in December 2009, the last matchday of that season's Champions League group stage. The Germans needed all three points to go through at the expense of the Italians. Because Bayern were only fourth in the Bundesliga at the time, it was all over town that the team's new coach -- an eccentric Dutchman by the name of Louis van Gaal -- would be fired if the Juve game weren't won.
After 11 minutes, Bayern striker Ivica Olic hit the post. Six minutes later, David Trezeguet put Juventus ahead with a great volley from 18 yards. But just when their entire season was beginning to unravel in front of them, Bayern's players managed to shrug off their doubts and fears and roll up their proverbial sleeves.
On the half hour, Olic went down in the box under a challenge from Martin Cáceres. Bayern hadn't won a penalty all season, but they won one that day. With the game, the competition and perhaps the coach's fate on the line, who would step up but the goalkeeper, Jörg Butt? He had converted a penalty for Hamburg against Juventus in 2000 and for Bayer Leverkusen against Juventus in 2002 -- in both cases at crucial moments in the game. Now he did the same for Bayern and tied the match. In the second half, Bayern ran rampant. Olic scored the go-ahead goal before Mario Gomez and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk found the target for a stunning final score of 4-1.
The game in Turin didn't merely save Bayern's campaign. It completely turned their season around. Suddenly, the side was unstoppable. For a few dizzying months, Van Gaal became "King Louis of Bavaria," the most popular Dutchman in living memory. He claimed the league/cup double and came very close to giving Bayern the first treble in club history when he guided his team to the Champions League final in Madrid. But alas, at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, José Mourinho's Inter denied Bayern their ultimate triumph.
It would be another three years before Jupp Heynckes at long last earned Bayern their elusive treble, which is, of course, the achievement Pep Guardiola must emulate if he is to be remembered as one of the truly great managers in Bayern's history, rather than just a very good one.
His next hurdle on the road to Milan, scene of this year's Champions League final, is Juventus. The match Wednesday will be the 10th competitive encounter between the two clubs in less than twelve years.
That's not bad for two teams that once seemed like the twain who never shall meet.
Uli covers German football for ESPN FC and has written over 400 columns since 2002.