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Champions League final goes mainstream in US


Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final will prove historic as either Inter Milan or Bayern Munich will clinch a magical treble after winning their domestic league and cup titles.

However, from an American perspective, the championship match will have a much deeper significance. It will be remembered as a watershed event in US soccer history as the game will be televised live on a national broadcast network for the first time ever.

The Fox network has actually moved its Saturday afternoon Major League Baseball programming to accommodate the match between the Italian and German club (2:30 p.m. ET). It will be preceded by a 90-minute pregame show on Fox Soccer Channel live from Madrid. Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena will offer color analysis live from Spain.

Fox Sports chairman David Hill anticipates double the audience of last year’s Champions League final on ESPN and said he expects more than 2 million households to tune in.

The mainstream soccer fan will surely have preferred to watch the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United contest the trophy. Also, the teams on display on Saturday may not feature the most extravagant stars on the world stage today. But Inter vs. Bayern, which is widely expected to be a tactical chess match, has several intriguing story lines of its own.

First and foremost there is the true star of the day: Inter’s controversial manager, José Mourinho, who is seeking to win the Champions League with a second club (he guided FC Porto to the 2003-04 title). Even more intriguing is his attempt to win the title at the Estadio Bernabéu, where he is expected to assume the coaching reins of Real Madrid next season.

If Mourinho succeeds on Saturday, it will come at the expense of his former mentor, Bayern boss Louis van Gaal, who is also seeking for his second trophy with as many clubs after capturing it with Ajax (1995). Mourinho was an assistant for the Dutchman at Barcelona more than 10 years ago.

Bayern will be without their most representative player, Frenchman Franck Ribéry, who was suspended for three matches for a red card foul in the semifinal stage.

In other stories: Inter’s Samuel Eto’o is trying to become the first player to score in three Champions League finals (2006, 2009). Midfielders Arjen Robben (Bayern) and Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) will once again showcase their talents at the Bernabéu after a disappointing spell with Real Madrid. Inter captain Javier Zanetti, who was not chosen by Argentina for the World Cup roster, will be playing in his 700th match with the Italian side.

If for nothing else, the match will be worth watching for the long-awaited attempt by the Italian club to erase a drought of 45 years since they last captured Europe’s most coveted prize. The wait for Bayern Munich has been much shorter, as they last hoisted the trophy in 2001.