A golden sunset, a capacity crowd in a glittering modern stadium, a queue of shiny black limousines ferrying football royalty from five-star hotels to the VIP entrance, and earsplitting fanfares for two teams including a handful of the stars of European club football: this could have been the final itself, on one of those balmy evenings when late spring is turning into early summer. But as Manchester City's night ended in chaos, it seemed as close to the final as the world's richest club will get this season. You would not put a ha'penny on their chances now, never mind Sheikh Mansour's half a billion.
At least the appalling behaviour of Carlos Tevez, whose Premier League goals and unstinting effort last season helped them to reach the Champions League for the first time, may have succeeded in lancing a boil that has been suppurating for months. By refusing, with his team two goals down, to go on as a second-half substitute, this grotesquely over-indulged 27-year-old infant committed a crime against the game.
If the outcome is an immediate transfer to Abu Dhabi, then that is exactly what he deserves: a career played out in a football desert. The memory of his brilliant performances on the pitch for all three of the English clubs for whom he has played since his arrival from South America five years ago was swept away by a gesture much more consistent with the repulsively cold-blooded way the business side of his career has been run by people to whom loyalty and commitment come a long way behind profit.
But although the Tevez affair will monopolise the headlines, it was a mere sideshow to the match itself. City began the match with the sort of moves that reflected the positive look of Roberto Mancini's team sheet but within half an hour they had been comprehensively shredded. Long before the end there were signs of other fractious egos at play as Edin Dzeko reacted badly to a strange substitution and players remonstrated with each other over misplaced passes and misread runs. The optimism created by a positive start to the domestic season took an almighty battering from a Bayern side inspired not just by the goals of Mario Gomez but more profoundly by the solid work of Bastian Schweinsteiger, surely the best central midfielder in Europe outside Spain, and the trickery of Franck Ribéry, who started quietly but ended up by provoking yellow-card fouls from both Touré brothers and limping off to a standing ovation.
So frequently criticised last season for concentrating on defence at the expense of entertainment, Mancini retained Gareth Barry rather than bringing in Nigel De Jong to bolster the side's defensive security in a tough away fixture. Two attacking fullbacks, Micah Richards and Gaël Clichy, were preferred to Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov. Kolo Touré made his big-match return from a six-month suspension for taking his wife's diet pills, displacing Joleon Lescott. On paper, at least, the front four bristled with attacking threat. City had come to the home of Bayern with the intention of showing their mettle, particularly after the disappointing home draw against Napoli with which they opened their first Champions League campaign.
And how deceptively well they began, unfurling smooth build-ups down both flanks. But with Thomas Müller on one of Bayern's wings and Ribéry on the other, Schweinsteiger prompting from the central areas, and fine contributions from lesser known players such as the two Brazilians, Rafinha at right-back and Luiz Gustavo in midfield, Bayern were soon exposing City's defensive weakness. Long before they scored it was obvious that Mancini would be made to pay for his adventure, the combination of Barry and Yaya Touré clearly failing to seal up the area in front of the back four.
Encouraged by City's wasteful attitude to possession, the red shirts of the home team were counterattacking with speed and guile, providing support and options and occasionally even outnumbering their opponents. City were in tatters, their attacking intentions forgotten as hanging on became a priority. Joe Hart had provided a brilliant last line of defence against a fusillade of long-range shots but even he could not hang on forever, his double save from Ribéry and Müller not enough to prevent Gomez administering the coup de grace in the 38th minute. Another stop on the stroke of half-time, from Daniel van Buyten's glancing header, brought a second predatory swoop from Gomez, who went into this match having scored eight goals in six Bundesliga matches already this season.
Given the challenge of of a trip to Munich, Mancini seemed to have been taking an uncharacteristic gamble when he brought in Kolo Touré rather than sticking with the partnership of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott. Everything we saw of the Italian coach before this season suggested that he would also have opted for De Jong alongside Yaya Touré. The uncompromising Dutchman was as important as Tevez's goals to City's success in reaching the Champions League and, when he did arrive last night, replacing Dzeko 10 minutes into the second half, it was about half an hour too late and the wrong player was leaving the pitch.
All Mancini could do was watch as his new Age of Enlightenment failed to impress one of the old powers of European club football, who took the opportunity to turn the stadium into the venue for their own little Oktoberfest.