Philadelphia, PA – When it comes to European competition, Bayern Munich has become accustomed to assuming the role of the bridesmaid in recent years.
The Bavarians reached the Champions League final in 2010 but suffered a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan at the Bernabeu.
After a one-year absence from the title match of Europe's most prestigious club competition, Bayern looked like it would win last season's final. Thomas Muller struck in the 83rd minute at the Allianz Arena, Bayern's home ground, to give the club a 1-0 lead over Chelsea, but the Blues went on to equalize through Didier Drogba five minutes later and eventually win the title on penalties.
Bayern - or any other German club, for that matter - had not tasted victory in a Champions League final since the Bavarians edged Valencia on penalties in 2001.
A German champion in the competition would be a certainty in 2013 as Bayern progressed to the final to face fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on Saturday. The only remaining question was whether it would be Bayern reclaiming its title or Dortmund, making its first appearance in a Champions League final since it won the competition in 1997, producing a massive upset over the Bundesliga champions.
The man who provided the answer to that question was someone who embodied all of the agony and strife that Bayern had experienced in 2010 and 2012.
Arjen Robben had failed on the big stage in 2010 when Bayern lost out to Inter, but the Dutchman was made the scapegoat last season for squandering numerous chances that would have put his side in good stead. Not only did Robben spurn a couple of sitters against Chelsea, but the Bayern winger had a penalty saved by Petr Cech in stoppage time that likely would have seen the German club march on to victory.
Fast forward one year and the Champions League final was playing out like a sequel for Robben, who had a plethora of chances to break the scoreless deadlock against Dortmund.
The 29-year-old found himself one-on-one with Roman Weidenfeller in the 30th minute of Saturday's affair, but the Dortmund goalkeeper rushed off his line to deny Robben the opener.
Robben had another glorious chance just before halftime when he capitalized on a fortuitous bounce from ball played over the top of the Dortmund defense, but his ensuing shot was kept out by Weidenfeller's face. The Dortmund stopper knew nothing of the shot, an indictment of the poor finishing display that has become somewhat routine for Robben in big spots.
It was not going Robben's way in front of net, but he still managed to aid Bayern's bid for a fifth European title by setting up Mario Mandzukic in the 60th minute.
Things were back to square one after Ilkay Gundogan leveled the score from the penalty spot eight minutes later, setting up a nerve-racking close to the contest.
All signs pointed to Robben playing a starring role in the remainder of the match with the only question mark being whether or not he would deliver.
He did, scoring late to all but seal Bayern's return to European prominence. Robben latched on to Ribery's flick in the 89th minute to slip a shot past Weidenfeller and squash any lingering sour recollections of past finals.
It was not Robben's best match, but he was effective enough to serve as the match-winner.
Similarly, it was not the dominant Bayern that controlled the Bundesliga season or demolished Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals.
But it certainly is fitting that Bayern's return to the European throne coincides with Robben's night of redemption.