[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Bayern Munich validated those pundits proclaiming the German giant as the top team in all of Europe by besting Borussia Dormund in the Champions League final at Wembley, and after having digested the performances of all 32 teams we’ve named our outstanding performers from the world's most prestigious club competition.
The following choices aim to reward those who excelled throughout, although players going farthest did receive the most consideration.
Wilfredo Caballero (Malaga) Our frame feels quite secure in this 31-year-old Argentine’s gloves. Willy had five shutouts in nine starts, and was just seconds away from dragging Malaga into the semis when two stoppage-time scrambles in Dortmund provided one of the most painful exits in history.
Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich) What else is there to say about this consummate professional who skippered Bayern to its first European Cup in a dozen years? All he does is excel on offense and defense, make the right decision 99 times out of 100, and lead by example. Lahm’s our captain.
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund) Standing 6-foot-4, this 24-year-old leader of Dortmund’s backline is more nimble than he appears, comfortable with the ball at his feet or carrying it forward, and his partnership with Neven Subotic formed the tourney’s top defensive tandem.
Thiago Silva (Paris St. Germain) PSG paid top dollar for the man considered by many to be the world’s best central defender. He scored a pair of UCL goals, marshaled a stingy defense, and showed his chops against Barcelona, but the real pressure for Silva lies back home, at Brazil 2014.
David Alaba (Bayern) A 20-year-old Austrian left back whose rising stock has investors shedding tears of joy. With two UCL goals, two assists, speed to burn and improved defense, this converted midfielder with a grenade launcher of a left foot isn’t bound for stardom; he’s already found it.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern) FC Hollywood’s smothering defense starts with the 28-year-old total package patrolling its midfield alongside Javi Martinez. Schweinsteiger and Lahm are the visible threads in Bayern’s fabric, and Bastian made his Bayern debut in the UCL, way back in 2002.
Thomas Mueller (Bayern) Bayern’s 4-0 masterpiece in the tourney’s most anticipated game, Barcelona’s visit to Bavaria, left fans asking when did the 23-year-old Mueller go from good to Gerd? Four of Thomas’ eight goals were winners, his late equalizer against Valencia won Bayern its group, and his three remaining tallies came against Barca and Juventus. Bayern’s most consistent attacking threat gets our nod for player of the tournament.
Ilkay Gundogan (Dortmund) Still just 22, Ilkay showed those at Wembley unfamiliar with this Turkish-German why he’s been Juergen Klopp’s most reliable resource in the Champions League, distributing, picking off passes, and seemingly set to supplant Sami Khedira in Germany’s central midfield.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) This year’s top scorer bagged 12 goals, although seven came in four games against Ajax and Galatasaray. Ronaldo’s memorable winner at Old Trafford knocked his mentor, Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson, out of his last ever Champions League tournament.
Robert Lewandoski (Dortmund) This 24-year-old Polish international was the tourney’s most feared striker, authoring four goals in 59 minutes against Real Madrid during the first-leg of the semifinal in Germany. His 10 goals also included an 87th minute winner in BVB’s opening game to set the tone.
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) Messi was Messi while healthy, with eight goals and three assists, but he failed in his quest to lead the competition in scoring for a fifth-straight time. Leo’s game against AC Milan with Barca’s backs against the wall, and the night he hobbled his way past Paris St. Germaine, were the two unforgettable moments in Messi’s injury riddled campaign.
Jupp Heynckes (Bayern) This 68-year-old coach’s final season was one of the finest ever by any manager. Heynckes’ club demolished all comers in the knockout stage, claiming to know everything about Barca before the semis, needing no insight from his successor Pep Guardiola, a claim ridiculed by many, including myself. Heynckes sounds quite modest in retrospect, the 7-0 Barca beating came on the heels of assaulting Juventus 4-0 in the quarters. This meticulous two-time European champion as coach leaves a lofty bar for Guardiola to clear in Munich, which includes Germany’s first ever treble.
Arjen Robben (Bayern) Leave it to Robben to require a category of his own. The Dutchman had one solitary goal prior to the semis, where he scored in both wins over Barcelona and added a goal and an assist in the Champions League final, leaving London as Man of the Match.
Goalkeeper: Roman Weidenfeller (Dortmund).
Defenders: Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund), Neven Subotic (Dortmund), Martin Demichelis (Malaga), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
Midfielders: Mario Goetze (Dortmund), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Javi Martinez (Bayern).
Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG), Burak Yilmaz (Galatasaray), Marco Reus (Dortmund).
Reserves: Isco, Dante, Blaise Matuidi, Franck Ribery and Fernandinho.
NOTES: Goetze, Weidenfeller, and Martinez were the last players cut from the first team. ... Fernandinho was the MVP of our Group Stage Best XI, but Shakhtar Donetsk fell to Dortmund before the quarters. The box-to-box Brazilian will make his case for the 2014 Selecao in England, after being purchased by Manchester City for nearly $50 million earlier this month.
Snub? Manuel Neuer’s exclusion lies in Die Roten defense denying him opportunities. He was rarely tested before the final, when he came up big, although Neuer did allow three goals to a team in Belarus named after cars, tractors and electric equipment in an all-time shocking loss from group play.