When commentators say a tournament was unlike any other, they’re usually referring to an intangible, even imagined, difference. Maybe the game seemed more exciting, or there was an iconic comeback or some record-setting performance.
But when one says the 2020 UEFA Champions League was unlike past iterations, it is not some qualitative estimation. Toss a five-month coronavirus hiatus and a single elimination tournament in Lisbon into the mix, and you indeed have a tournament unlike any other.
More than a year after the preliminary qualifiers began in June 2019 (yes, two, zero, one, nine), that tournament came to an end when Bayern Munich lifted its sixth Champions League trophy at the Estádio da Luz on Sunday.
The match started hot and fast, as both sides elected to play an open, attacking game. The Bavarians pressed high up the pitch, using its wingers Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman and wingbacks Alphonso Davies and Joshua Kimmich to put Paris Saint-Germain under pressure. The French champions were not without quality, and Neymar made multiple blistering runs forward.
The heroes of the first half were, undoubtedly, the goalkeepers. German veteran Manuel Neuer made an essential double save against Neymar before stopping PSG’s Kylian Mbappé late in the first half. Keylor Navas was saved when Bayern superstar Robert Lewandowski hit the post, but he still had plenty of his own moments. The Costa Rican stopped Lewandowski’s point-blank header in the 30th minute.
The second half lacked the same punch and swashbuckling play of the first 45 minutes. PSG seemed more constrained by the Bayern press, and both teams fouled copiously, sending the game into a molasses like slowness. Seven of the final’s eight yellow cards appeared after the break.
Such play was not completely devoid of results. After 59 minutes, Gnabry was released down the right side of the PSG box. He sent a pass across the top of the box to a heavily pressured Thomas Müller, who used the deftest of touches to find Kimmich. With acres of space and oodles of time, Kimmich put his right foot to the ball and sent in a looping cross.
Who was waiting at the back post but former PSG player Coman? With enough time to make a Saturday breakfast, the winger sent a bullet of a header into the opposite corner and sunk his hometown team.
Granted, the game was far from over, and for much of the match’s latter half, a 1-0 result seemed a near impossibility. Coman was inches away from a second goal just minutes after his first, and each side made several substitutions in a bid to pull the game in its direction.
Referee Daniele Orsato waved off multiple calls for penalties. Coman felt he had been pulled down at the end of the first half, and Mbappé and Lewandowski were subjected to dubious challenges in the box during the match’s late stages. None of the plays went to video review, and no amount of pleading swayed Orsato.
Time ticked away, taking PSG’s hopes with it. Neuer held strong, and PSG substitute Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting missed a series of opportunities. In the stands, Bayern Munich’s socially distanced players raised their arms and voices, exhorting their teammates to go a little further, a little longer until it was, finally, enough.
The Bavarians entered as favorites and left as victors. Bayern made the Champions League final its 21st consecutive victory and secured its second treble, taking home a European trophy, its domestic league title and its domestic cup. PSG fulfilled decades of dreaming with its first Champions League final appearance, but it will have to wait at least one more season for its first Champions League title. For now, the European crown sits in Munich.
Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers football and is the deputy special issues editor. Contact him at