Bayern celebrate in front of their home fans - but only 17,500 will get tickets for the finalSo much for assumption. So much for fixes. So much for hot balls. From the moment the draw for the quarter and semi-finals of the Champions League was made it appeared certain that Barcelona would play Real Madrid in the final on May 19. So certain was it, there were those of us moved to suggest it suited UEFA's purpose that things turned out that way.
But destiny turns out not to have been at work after all. There is to be no El Clasico in Bavaria. In a brilliant piece of gate-crashing, Chelsea and Bayern Munich are going to be there instead. And who is to deny, after two of the most dramatic semi-finals this competition can ever have delivered, that they deserve it?
That is the odd thing about destiny. While the rest of us assumed fate had one conclusion in mind, in Germany they were certain it had another. With the final to be played in the Allianz Arena, they believed their team had to be there. As Paul Elliott put it so succinctly when interviewed after Wednesday's game in Madrid, the final "will be like a home game for Bayern."
Well, almost Paul. The truth is, this is a Champions League final, which makes it an event unlike any other. Last year at Wembley ahead of the Barcelona v Manchester United meeting, I walked into the ground behind a long crocodile of some 50 or so chaps in suits, who had just disembarked from a bus and were being shown the way to the stands by a woman holding aloft, in the manner of a tourist guide, a lollipop-shaped sign. Written on it was the one word: "Samsung". Which, along with words like Ford, Heineken and Sony, tends to be one that opens doors at the top level of football. I tweeted something along the lines of "if you want to get to see Europe's biggest match, make sure you work for the right company." And I got a brilliant reply from a fellow tweeter who said that they knew someone who worked for a sponsoring corporation who boasted that they had been to only six football matches in their life: five Champions League finals and one World Cup final.
No doubt that big-game hunters will be in Germany at the end of next month.
Because what Munich will host then is less an event for the fans than one for UEFA's corporate backers, an annual business networking opportunity with a ball attached. A sort of Davos without the snow. Of the Allianz's 69,000 seats, both finalists will receive 17,500 each, with a further 7,000 tickets going on public ballot sale to those living in the locality of the final arena. With 1,000 going to the wasters in the media seats, that leaves roughly 25,000 for assorted sponsors, sponsors' guests and associated hangers-on. And a few which will remain empty to accommodate the extra-sized pitchside advertising hoardings.
Sure, some of those corporate tickets, via the offices of the black market, will find their way at considerable expense to followers of the two finalists. And plenty of ingenious solutions will be adopted to ensure some regulars find their way in. At Athens at the 2007 final, the fact the Greek authorities had not got round to finishing the Olympic stadium a mere three years after the games had been staged there was neatly noted by about 5,000 Liverpool fans who cunningly exploited the fact that turnstiles had yet to be installed.
But for most match-going supporters this has long been the downside of success: you follow your club all the way through a competition only to be denied your chance to watch them at the pinnacle. The only consolation — and admittedly it is a thin one — is that it is worse in America. At the Super Bowl, the finalists don't bother even to bring their own fans. The tradition is those on corporate jollies decide which team to favour on the morning of the match.
What it won't be in Munich, then, is like a home match for Bayern. Sure, they will be familiar with their surroundings, but most of the benefit will have been ceded to the organisers and their backers. Oddly, they will find themselves guests in their own stadium.
Not that it would worry Chelsea if their opponents had advantage. They have relished being the underdogs so far in the tournament, enjoyed undermining expectation. They will enter the final able to enjoy the moment, knowing that no-one, back in January, thought they had a hope of being there.
Chelsea need not worry about anything, not even the four suspensions. For them, this is just a game to relish. If they can absorb the attitude that they really have nothing to lose, then for those left at home, the chances of enjoying another Gary Neville scoregasm will be writ large. Only a fool would now write off seeing once more Roberto Di Matteo's crazy-eyed celebratory grin, which, as he jumped around with Branislav Ivanovic on Tuesday, gave him the look of a Bond villain who has just discovered that 007 has indeed been properly attended to by an industrial bacon slicer. As Glenn Hoddle would doubtless put it, for Chelsea it could be written in the stars.