Reaching the Champions League final, though tinged with the disappointment of losing, may not seem like such a bad season. But for FC Bayern Munich it was an unmitigated disaster. For years FC Bayern had been waiting for the 'Finale Dahoam' (home final) and, as Bayern progressed serenely through the early rounds, it acquired a sense of destiny - a successful quest for the Holy Grail was well under way.
Alas, the Grail turned into a poisoned chalice. In the end Bayern were left not only without a domestic trophy, but also without a Champions League crown, a trophy they had craved most of all.
But first let's cast a look back to the events preceding the tragic denouement in Munich's Allianz Arena on 19 May.
It all commenced in confident fashion, despite Bayern having to endure the ignominy of the third qualifying round, having finished only third in the previous Bundesliga season. The Bavarians won both games against Swiss side FC Zürich, 2-0 and 1-0 respectively.
Onto the draw for the group stages and Bayern were handed arguably the toughest of challenges, positioned in Group A alongside Napoli of Italy, Manchester City of England and Villarreal of Spain in the so-called 'Group of Death'.
In order to understand the various challenges presented by the teams, it's worth considering the different teams in each pot. From Pot 4, the weakest pot, Bayern couldn't be drawn against their compatriots Borussia Dortmund due to competition rules, leaving Napoli as by far the strongest potential opponents. The Neapolitans had a relatively low coefficient due to this being their debut season in the competition. Nevertheless, the attacking potency of Napoli, consisting of Slovakian left-winger Marek Hamzik, Ezequiel Lavezzi, the Argentinian midfielder and jewel-in-the-crown lank-haired Uruguayan forward Edison Cavani. From Pot 3 it would be difficult to argue that there was a more threatening team than Manchester City, bankrolled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, a ruling member of UAE state Abu Dhabi and half-brother to the country's president. From Pot 2, it admittedly could have been worse than Villarreal, but it's worth noting that the Yellow Submarines were Champions League finalists in 2006, although their pedigree has since faded somewhat.
The opening round of fixtures saw Manchester City and Napoli play out an entertaining 1-1 draw in Northern England, whilst Bayern travelled to Spain to take on arguably their weakest opponent. A relatively untroubled 2-0 win against Villarreal left Bayern top of the group after matchday one.
Manchester City's visit to Munich during the Oktoberfest was settled by an in-form Mario Gomez with a brace just before half time to maintain their 100% record. The English side were probably undone by a little bit of inexperience at this level and were unlucky to catch a Bayern side at the top of their game. The match was perhaps overshadowed by Argentinian star Carlos Tevez refusing to come on as a substitute for the visitors.
Matchday three saw an ascendant Bayern arrive at the San Paolo stadium in Naples to an electric atmosphere, the home team roared on ferociously by a vociferous crowd. Unfortunately, this did not have the desired effect as Toni Kroos netted within 2 minutes to give the visitors the lead. Napoli, clearly set back by this, took their time to find their feet in the game but eventually pulled level with an own goal from Holger Badstuber, who, in turning a cross into his own goal, became the first player to beat Bayern's new goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in over 1000 minutes of play. The game ended 1-1, leaving Bayern on seven points after three games, three ahead of both Manchester City and Napoli. In the home game against Napoli, Bayern produced a stunning first-half performance, Mario Gomez continuing his fine form and helping himself to a first-half hat-trick. Nevertheless, the Italians pulled a goal back before the break to leave the score 3-1 at the interval. In the second-half, with both sides reduced to ten men after Holger Badstuber and Juan Zúñiga were sent off, Napoli pulled another goal back - but to no avail.
In the first knock-out round, Bayern once again faced Swiss opposition, this time FC Basel. The Swiss Champions had eliminated Manchester United from the group stages but were clearly underdogs going into the tie as relative minnows at this level. Nevertheless, the first leg in Switzerland produced a real shock as Basel won 1-0, courtesy of a late goal from Valentin Stocker. It could have been more for the Swiss side had they had more fortune as they twice struck the woodwork. Perhaps that was the result Bayern needed as it removed any complacency that may have crept into the team.
In the second leg, a majestic Bayern, led from the front by the mercurial Mario Gomez, crushed Basel 7-0, the German forward helping himself to four goals in the process. It was another sign of Bayern's clear intent to win the trophy on home turf and made them a feared opponent for the quarter-final draw.
The quarter-final draw was again kind to Bayern with a winnable tie against Olympique Marseille, probably the weakest team left in the draw after Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia. With the French giants coming into the game on the back of a poor run of league form, Bayern were expected to progress and move a step closer to the 'Finale Dahoam'. The first leg in France was an even contest but Bayern's individual quality and ruthless streak combined in the shape on Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez: Robben assisted Gomez for his eleventh Champions League goal of the season while adding the second himself in a routine 2-0 victory.
It could be argued that wins over Basel and Marseille were almost a foregone conclusion but nobody was under any illusions when the semi-finalists rolled into Munich for the first-leg. The colossal Real Madrid, 9 times European champions and with 32 goals in their ten games so far, were the opponents Bayern had to overcome to realize their dream final.
In the other game, reigning Champions Barcelona, who were aiming for their third final in four years, played Chelsea. In Munich, with the domestic title slipping away, the home fans were in fervent mood for the visit of Real Madrid. Whatever the situation in the league and however much it hurt to be playing second fiddle to Dortmund again, the Champions League was the one they wanted. At home, on their own pitch, in their own city.
The game itself carried the usual burden of a semi-final but was occasionally lit up by quality. The opening goal, drilled in by Franck Ribery, came from poor Madrid defending, failing to clear a seemingly innocuous corner from Toni Kroos. One had the impression that, although Madrid coach Jose Mourinho was disappointed to concede the goal, he hadn't brought his team to go out all guns blazing. At the start of the second-half, however, with Madrid attacking with more impetus, a mistake from David Alaba allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to get in a shot at goal. Although this was blocked, Bayern never fully cleared and the ball was put into Manuel Neuer's goal by compatriot and former Schalke 04 team-mate Mesut Özil. This looked more like Mourinho's plan and the away side began to sit back a little deeper, presumably relying on the fast counter-attacking led by Ronaldo and the promise of a home second-leg. However, in the dying minutes of the game, man-of-the-moment Mario Gomez tapped in a low cross to send the Bayern fans into ecstasy. Despite the late goal, Mourinho was not too disappointed; thinking his team still had the firepower to blow Bayern out of the water in the Spanish capital.
And so it proved at the start of the return leg. The atmosphere inside the Santiago Bernabeu is totally different to any other. Instead of fans cheering their team on and inspiring the players, the Madridistas wait patiently for the game - they expect their team to deliver. The electricity and the tension are there to be felt for all. On this occasion it seemed to be an inspiration for the home side, in particular Portuguese star Ronaldo, who within 20 minutes of the start had fired his team into a two-goal lead. A perfect execution of Mourinho's game plan and fully vindicating his comments after the first game that all is not lost. However, Bayern were not about to give up on their aspirations of a home final. After 27 minutes, Arjen Robben, who had earlier been guilty of skying an absolute sitter, had the chance to pull a goal back from the penalty spot and level the tie on aggregate. Having missed that penalty against Dortmund only two weeks prior, costing Bayern any realistic chance of overhauling their main domestic rivals, one has to respect Robben for taking on the mantle of penalty taker. This time he was up to the task and although Spain's number one Iker Casillas went the right way and got fingertips on the ball, the penalty went in. A cagey game ensued, with neither side willing to give up any ground. Indeed, Bayern were the more adventurous of the two sides as the game wore on, Mourinho obviously fearing the repercussions a second away goal would bring. There was no way through for either side and the game went to penalties. David Alaba, who in handling the ball after six minutes not only gave away a penalty but also earned himself a booking, meaning he was out of any potential final, was first up and scored. Ronaldo, who had scored from the spot during the game, was first up for Madrid but this time Neuer guessed correctly, springing to his right to save the ball and end Ronaldo's run of 25 successive successful penalties. Neuer also saved from Kaka, and Sergio Ramos blasted over leaving Bastian Schweinsteiger to slam home the decisive kick and send the travelling Bayern fans into delirium.
'Unsere Stadt, Unser Stadion, Unser Pokal'. So near and yet so far.
They say things come in three's - good or bad - and for the purposes of this article, I'll focus on the good. There's horse racing's Triple Crown, there's American baseball's Triple Crown. The Three Musketeers. Triple word score in Scrabble. I'm sure we can go on all day, but there's one special 'three-some' everyone in Munich is focusing on these days. On Saturday, FC Bayern Munich will be looking to make history and join an elite group of European football clubs if they are to win the UEFA Champions League Final against Inter Milan.
Three titles, or as most football fans say, the "treble",...
Munich, May 23 - There will be a list of items going through each Bayern fan later this afternoon as they cheer their team one last time this season: Madrid. Milito. Mourinho. Milan. I would like to add one more for Bayern "missed opportunities" but there just wasn't a lot to discuss about that during Inter Milan's 2-0 victory in the UEFA Champions League Final in Madrid last night.
There's something about playing a Final in Spain that is becoming a major obstacle for Bayern. From the start, they played well; dominating possession and it looked like their game plan would continue to create...
|Re: Will the new Alternative for Germany party find significant backing? by Tomtom||Today at 02:34:07 PM|
|Will the new Alternative for Germany party find significant backing? by Timothy||May 03, 2013, 01:44:04 PM|
|Should Turkey be allowed into the EU? by Timothy||May 03, 2013, 01:42:36 PM|
|Are Bavarian politicians overpaid? by Timothy||May 03, 2013, 01:41:42 PM|