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Despondent Bastian Schweinsteiger Must Respond

Bastian Schweinsteiger failed on the biggest stage for Bayern Munich, but he must now regroup.

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December 11, 2010: Bastian Schweinsteiger stood alone in front of the Südkurve.

After a 3-0 victory over St. Pauli, Schweinsteiger stood with a microphone in hand in front of the supporters in the south terrace at the Allianz Arena. Various papers across Europe were linking the midfielder with a move away from Munich. Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Inter were after his signature.

Unannounced before the match, Schweinsteiger told the the supporters, "I've extended my contract and I'm staying with Bayern until 2016. Long live Bayern!" He followed that up with this statement to the club's website: "I've said often enough that I want to win the Champions League. But the question for me is this: is that better with Real Madrid, Inter Milan, some other club - or with Bayern Munich? I think I've answered that question clearly and unmistakably. We can achieve a lot here." Turning down the riches that lay before him at a club like Real Madrid and staying with Bayern made him a hero in the eyes of some.

His desires were clear. After the disappointment at the 2010 Champions League Final, Schweinsteiger wanted to win the trophy for his club. He joined Bayern just before his 13th birthday and made his debut for the first team as an 18 year old. While Philipp Lahm may wear the armband for club and country, you'll be hard-pressed to find a current player that personifies Bayern Munich and Germany better than Schweinsteiger. He's professional on and off the pitch and respected by fans around the world.

It was no surprise that Schweinsteiger was the player taking the winning penalty against Iker Casillas and Real Madrid in the semifinals. He was the hero for getting Bayern back to the Champions League Final for the second time in three years. When Bastian stepped up to take the fifth penalty in the Final, there was a confidence.

The hero from the semifinal stood waiting. The whistle blew, and he struck. Thud.

May 19, 2012: Bastian Schweinsteiger stood alone in front of the Südkurve.

Bayern supporters have a nickname for Schweinsteiger in the terraces: Fußballgott. The translation is simple: Football God. To say that Bastian is highly regarded among the Bayern faithful is a gross understatement.

The ball struck the post and rolled away. Schweinsteiger's hands went to his face, and he pulled his jersey over his mouth. He glanced over at the stunned supporters and then his teammates before pulling the jersey completely over his head. The tears flowed. Schweinsteiger began a slow trudge back to midfield. Lahm came jogging to meet him. He spoke a few words to Bastian, and the two continued to where their teammates stood. Well, where they all were standing. A few had dropped to their knees with the knowledge that it had all slipped away. How on earth did it get to this point?

The match was won on three different occasions. Thomas Müller's goal in regulation, Arjen Robben's penalty in extra time, and Manuel Neuer saving Juan Mata's penalty in the shootout gave Bayern every advantage they could ever want. Chelsea always seemed to find a way back whether it was Didier Drogba's goal just before the end of regulation, Petr Cech's save on Robben's penalty in extra time, and Cech's save on Ivica Olic's penalty in the shootout. Bayern dominated the match and had every opportunity to capture the Champions League Trophy, but they failed to capitalize when the moment called for it.

The supporters in the terrace behind the goal watched in horror as Drogba stood waiting for the referee. A season that started with dreams of retaking the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal had already slipped away due to Borussia Dortmund's double, and now their dream of winning the Champions League Final at home was one kick from being ripped away from them as well. The Ivorian took two steps, sent Neuer the wrong direction, and placed his shot in the back of the net.

In the United States, the ESPN television feed continued to alternate between the elation on the faces of the Chelsea players and the devastation on the faces of the Bayern players. One face was absent. The cameras were looking for Schweinsteiger, and they finally found him. He was on his knees and had his face buried into his hands.

Schweinsteiger was inconsolable. Teammates and members of the staff tried to stir him, but he couldn't hear them. Even Drogba came over to console the midfielder to no avail. Schweinsteiger was so despondent when picking up his runners-up medal, he forgot to shake the hand of German President Joachim Gauck to which the German international later apologized.

Manager Jupp Heynckes spoke with after the match on Schweinsteiger:

Collectively all the players had one big target: To win the Champions League final, especially as it was here in Munich. You have to put an end to talk about how such a renowned international player like Bastian Schweinsteiger failed from the spot. After all, in Madrid it was Bastian who shot us into the final in the first place. I have no doubt he'll get over the disappointment of the final. It will certainly take a couple of days, but it comes with the territory of being a footballer.

There is exactly three weeks from the end of the Champions League Final until Germany's first match at Euro 2012. The national manager Joachim Löw will be hoping that Bastian can put this behind him in time for the tournament in Austria and Poland. Schweinsteiger has always performed at a high level for his country, and he will be counted on to do the same this summer as Germany will be one of the favorites. Löw will be tasked with not only re-engaging Schweinsteiger but also the other eight Bayern Munich players involved in the national team. Schweinsteiger has always played with a calmness and confidence in the midfield that has made him one of if not the best player at his position in the world. The quicker he can show he has moved on for this moment in Munich, the better he will be for club and country.