Sports

June 1, 2024

Five things to watch out for in Champions League final

Five things to watch out for in Champions League final

London, United Kingdom

Serial Champions League winners Real Madrid are out to dash Borussia Dortmund dreams in Saturday’s Champions League final at London’s Wembley Stadium.

The Spanish champions are going for their 15th European crown and sixth in the past 11 seasons against a Dortmund side hoping to win the competition for just the second time.

AFP Sports looks at five things to look out for in European club football’s showpiece occasion:

Bellingham’s pitch for Ballon d’Or

Jude Bellingham is emblematic of the difference between the two clubs and the scale of the challenge facing Dortmund this weekend.

After breaking through as a prodigious teenage talent at Birmingham in English football’s second tier, Bellingham was moulded into a world class performer during three years at Dortmund.

He was then sold on for over 100 million euros ($108 million) to Madrid 12 months ago and has shown remarkable maturity at just 20 to shine in the spotlight of the Santiago Bernabeu.

Bellingham has already been crowned La Liga’s player of the season after scoring 23 goals in all competitions to help Madrid reclaim the Spanish title.

Add the Champions League and he could become the first Englishman to win the Ballon d’Or since Michael Owen in 2001, particularly with the Three Lions set to contend at Euro 2024.

Can Sancho shine on homecoming?

Jadon Sancho returns to his home city but in the Dortmund colours he has flourished in over two spells.

The 24-year-old returned to Germany in January on loan from Manchester United, who had paid Dortmund £73 million ($93 million) for the winger less than three years ago.

Sancho struggled to match the heights of his first stint in the Bundesliga under three different managers at United and was ultimately outcast by Erik ten Hag after a public spat with the Dutchman.

Back at Dortmund, he has looked a different man and played a starring role in the semi-final, first leg win over Paris Saint-Germain.

Victory over Madrid would cap a spectacular turnaround in his season and help ease the pain of his own Wembley hoodoo.

Sancho was one of three Englishmen to miss in the Euro 2020 final penalty shootout defeat to Italy.

Reus’ dream farewell?

Along with Mats Hummels, Marco Reus is one of only two Dortmund players who experienced the 2013 final defeat to Bayern Munich.

Injuries have robbed him of fulfilling his full potential, including an ankle problem that saw him miss Germany’s 2014 World Cup win.

But the Dortmund native has been the club’s reliable star, scoring 170 goals, during an era where they have become a stepping stone for the likes of Bellingham, Sancho and Erling Haaland.

Now 35, Saturday will be his 429th and final game of a Dortmund career that could have a fairytale ending.

Fuellkrug v Rudiger

A heavyweight clash between two German internationals could go a long way to deciding the fate of the final

Within two weeks, Niclas Fuellkrug and Antonio Rudiger will be lining up on the same side as the host nation go for glory at Euro 2024.

They have taken very different routes to the biggest game in European football.

Just two seasons ago Fuellkrug was playing in Germany’s second tier with Werder Bremen, but earned his first call-up to the national team aged 29 for the 2022 World Cup and then his big move to Dortmund last summer.

The hulking striker has struck 16 times this season, including the winner in the semi-final, first leg against PSG.

Rudiger is already a Champions League winner from his time at Chelsea and the centre-back played a huge part in Madrid’s run to the final by locking down Manchester City’s Haaland and Bayern Munich striker Harry Kane.

Champions League master Ancelotti

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti already stands alone as the only man to win the European Cup four times as a coach and can open up a clear gap as the most successful coach in the history of the competition at Wembley.

Ancelotti guided AC Milan to Champions League glory in 2003 and 2007 before ending Madrid’s 12-year drought for a 10th European Cup in 2014 during his first stint in the Spanish capital and winning it again in 2022.

But it is during his second spell as Madrid boss that Ancelotti’s mixture of man-management and tactical prowess has begun to get the credit it deserves as one of the all-time greats.

“I think our biggest strength is he finds a way to let the boys play with freedom,” said Bellingham.

“Some teams are more organised and structured with their passages of play, but one of our biggest strengths is we are off the cuff and he (Ancelotti) is calm and confident.”

kca/ea

© Agence France-Presse