International Soccer

Stoppage Time: Bayern ready to assume the throne

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

(Sports Network) - Bayern Munich has been by far the most dominant team in Europe this season, walking to the Bundesliga title and brushing aside both Juventus and Barcelona among others on its way to the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Bayern will be favored to beat fellow Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund in club soccer's showpiece event this weekend, and the team has the chance to become the first German side to capture the treble.

But the Bavarians' dominance this season didn't happen overnight, rather it is the culmination of a process that began with a humbling defeat to Barcelona four years ago.

At that time, Bayern was just beginning to turn the corner after a fourth- place finish in the Bundesliga during the 2006-07 campaign, leaving the club without a place in the Champions League for the first time in more than a decade.

Signing players like Franck Ribery, Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni helped to turn the tide, and Bayern managed to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2008-09, where the club was humbled, 5-1, over two legs by Barcelona.

Of course, the Spanish side went on to win the competition that year, and establish itself as the preeminent force in the game.

Bayern used that defeat as a measuring stick, realizing there was still a long way to go to compete with Europe's best.

While Barcelona was collecting every accolade possible for a club team over the past four years, Bayern was beginning to build a dynasty of its own.

The additions of Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez followed the Barcelona setback, and so, too, did a spot in the Champions League final, which ended with a 2-0 defeat to Inter Milan.

Bayern appeared ready to break through last season, but it ended with second- place finishes in the league and Pokal Cup to Dortmund before the biggest disappointment of all, a heartbreaking defeat on penalty kicks against Chelsea at the Allianz Arena in Munich in the Champions League final.

"At that time, it was a shock for us all," Ribery said of last season. "We suffered greatly a year ago after finishing second in the league and losing the UEFA Champions League final to Chelsea, as well as the DFB Cup final against Borussia Dortmund. It was a terrible season and we were all at the end of our tethers in the changing room, but we managed to bounce back immediately."

Part of the reason for Bayern's ability to bounce back was due to the signings of Mario Mandzukic and Javi Martinez, who helped to round out a roster loaded from top to bottom.

Mandzukic led the club in goals and provided manager Jupp Heynckes with a potent one-two punch along with Gomez, while Martinez shored up an already stout midfield.

And maybe just as important has been the maturation of younger players like Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos, who have developed into game-changing talents over the past few years.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm have come up through the system at Bayern and have been central to the club's success, and both are in the prime of their careers as well.

Four years after Bayern's reality check against Barcelona, the two sides got together again in the semifinals of the Champions League this season.

It was viewed as a matchup of the two best teams in the world, and promised to be an epic two-legged affair.

However, Bayern's 7-0 destruction of Barca was as stunning as it was impressive, leading many to believe the torch as Europe's premier side had been passed.

And Bayern doesn't look like it will slow down any time soon, with the club having already secured the signature of Mario Gotze from Dortmund, who is one of the top young midfielders in Germany.

Having recently deposed of the kings of Europe, Bayern would appear to be poised to ascend to the throne themselves with just one hurdle remaining.

Yet if the club suffers its third defeat in the last four years in the final, it will be another crushing setback for a team that is too familiar with them.

On paper, Dortmund doesn't have the same level of talent as its German rival, but there is a certain level of familiarity that could help to spark an upset.

Dortmund and Bayern have met four times this season across all competitions, with two draws and two Bayern victories by one goal.

There is no team in Europe that knows Bayern better, and after an impressive win over Real Madrid in the semifinals, Ribery knows that Dortmund will be tough.

But he doesn't feel his team will be denied this time around.

"I was impressed how this team (Dortmund) managed to dismantle Real Madrid in the semifinals, but we should only be thinking of ourselves. Put simply, we're stronger," Ribery said.

Stronger, and finally destined to take its place at the top of the sport after a four-year journey.

05/22 14:08:26 ET

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