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Euro final features Cup-bound stars

May 4, 2010
Ubha By Ravi Ubha
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

The Champions League final on Saturday promises to be a classic. Both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan chase a treble, with the victorious manager accomplishing the rare feat of leading two different sides to Champions League glory. Yes, Jose Mourinho's head can get even bigger.

And for those gearing up for the World Cup, this game warrants your attention, too. That's because more than a few players in Saturday's showpiece will be on display in South Africa, now tantalizingly close.

Keep an eye on these figures and subplots.

Robben vs. Eto'o

Arjen Robben's Oranje and Samuel Eto'o's Cameroon go head-to-head in Group E. Saturday, you'll get your last good look at what these guys are capable of doing.

Bayern Munich's Robben, a good, old-fashioned winger, terrorized Bundesliga defenses, scoring 16 goals and adding seven assists. When he's on the move and in the mood, the 26-year-old (he only looks older) Dutchman is virtually unplayable. And look out for Robben's wonder strikes. His belters against Fiorentina in the Champions League round of 16 and Manchester United in the quarterfinals got Bayern through on away goals. Franck Ribery's absence in the Champions League final means Robben needs another big game.

Then there's Eto'o. Leaving free-flowing Spain for the tight spaces of Serie A predictably lowered Eto'o's goal tally, especially given that it was his first season playing for Inter. Give him a chance in front of goal, however, and he remains lethal.

Deja vu

Two players who started the Champions League final in 2006, before the World Cup in Germany, are back. Eto'o and Mark van Bommel lined up for the same team on that occasion: Barcelona, which rallied to beat Arsenal 2-1 in Paris. This time, van Bommel will captain Bayern against Eto'o's Inter.

German revenge?

Kevin-Prince Boateng, the German-born Ghanaian, is public enemy No. 1 in Germany for injuring Michael Ballack in last week's FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Chelsea, which will keep the German midfielder out of the World Cup. Without Ballack, the Germans have no hope.

Conspiracy theorists quickly suggested Boateng intended to hurt Ballack, given that his Ghana shares Group D with Germany, and Boateng didn't exactly quash the furor.

Fast-forward to the Champions League final: Inter's midfielder Sulley Muntari, back in the mix for Ghana and a possible regular given the uncertainty surrounding national teammate Michael Essien, had better watch out. If things get lopsided in Inter's favor and Muntari is on the pitch, the tackles from Bayern's German contingent could be flying in.

The anti Brazilian

Think Brazilian defenders, and images of the graceful fullback duo of Cafu and Roberto Carlos emerge. Lucio, a rock for Inter in the center, is a different type of Samba Boy. Big, physical and no-nonsense, Lucio, along with his Inter teammate, Argentine Walter Samuel, managed to do the near impossible in the second round of the Champions League, keep Chelsea's Didier Drogba quiet over two legs. Lucio bullied the Ivory Coast international -- they'll tangle in the group stage at the World Cup -- not the other way around.

The English patient

Saturday's ref is World Cup-bound Howard Webb, or rather, Howard Melton Webb, who trained as a police officer. Webb becomes the first Englishman to officiate the Champions League, or European Cup, final since Philip Don in 1994.

A strange choice by UEFA. Webb didn't have a good season in the Premier League, making some high profile blunders, and probably gets more praise than deserved because he's young, in good shape and doesn't take nonsense. The Champions League final gives him one last high-profile match to redeem his image before heading to South Africa.

Something to prove

Inter forward Diego Milito has some stiff competition for a spot on Argentina's national team. But a good performance Saturday would help Milito's chances of passing Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain on the Argentine depth chart.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.