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On returning to a venue so steeped in history, FC Bayern München coach Louis van Gaal revealed it was "an honour to be back" at the Santiago Bernabéu.
The spectacular setting befits a UEFA Champions League final, with the stadium having played host to three previous European Champion Clubs' Cup showpieces and the home to the competition's most decorated side, nine-time winners Real Madrid CF. FC Internazionale Milano and Bayern will look to write another chapter of their own in succeeding FC Barcelona as champions in the first final to be played on a Saturday.
Their meeting reunites Inter coach José Mourinho with the man from whom he learned so much when assistant to Van Gaal at the Camp Nou over a decade ago. Both hope to add the European crown to the domestic doubles they have already claimed this season and in the process join Ottmar Hitzfeld and Ernst Happel as the only coaches to have won the competition with different clubs.
"I can only say good things about that time [together]," said Mourinho after the coaches had crossed paths again on Friday. "It feels like yesterday even though it was 12 years ago. I told him when we got to the final: 'A big hug before the final, a big hug after the final'. The big hug before the final is done; the big hug after the final will happen."
The Dutchman has been impressed by his former protégé's achievements, particularly the defeats of Chelsea FC and Barcelona en route to Madrid. "Chelsea and Barcelona are at another level," Van Gaal said. "But a coach has to look for a way to win. Mourinho has done that and it's tactical. The players also have to be convinced. That is the art of a coach and he is very good at that.
My philosophy is always attacking. Mourinho's is more defensive, but he has players who can decide the match."
As the sun beat down on the Bernabéu, Van Gaal was relaxed and willing to joke with reporters. When asked if Mourinho was the best coach of his generation he quipped: "He is ten years younger [than me], so if you are speaking about that generation, you are right."
The pressure, though, was rising. "We have to focus and that's very difficult," Van Gaal said. "Just look how much media attention there is." Mourinho concurred: "
I'll wake up tomorrow and think: 'Wow, in a couple of hours I'll be in the Champions League final'. My heart will beat a little faster."
The Inter coach is confident, though, his team will not freeze on the day. "What makes a player special is being able to play under pressure. We are a team of stars who all want the team to be the star."
Both sides will be without key figures, with Franck Ribéry and Thiago Motta suspended. Hamit Altıntop should take the former's place on Bayern's left flank, while Mourinho is likely to move captain Javier Zanetti, on his 700th Inter appearance, into a holding role in central midfield with Cristian Chivu playing left-back to combat the threat of Arjen Robben.
Bayern's first European Cup victory came against Club Atlético de Madrid in 1974 and their most recent, at Valencia CF's expense, nine years ago. Now in Madrid they are aiming to join an exclusive group of three clubs to have won the competition five times. For Inter, the joy at reaching a first final for 38 years is unconfined. Having endured so many years of neighbours AC Milan taking centre stage, their turn has finally come. The pleasure of getting this far, though, would be nothing compared to the emotions of emulating Helenio Herrera's Grande Inter of 1964 and 1965 and winning the trophy for a third time.
"Most [Inter fans] weren't in this world the last time Inter were in the final," Mourinho said. "It would be something special for us: a special club, a special president and special supporters. I congratulate Bayern for what they have done this season and it should be a great final because these clubs have been the two best in Europe this season."
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