“He [Messi] is the best player of all time, I compare him with Pele. I am so happy to see this football.” These were the words that Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola used after his team were knocked out 5-3 on aggregate by Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.
And quite rightly so, as the Argentine has been pivotal for the Catalans this season and will be hoping to inspire his side when they take to Berlin for the final.
However, despite being knocked out, Bayern emerged from the match with much credit to their name as they took on one of Europe’s meanest defences and visibly shook them.
Guardiola’s men knew they had to score at least three goals if they were to have any chance of claiming the match and took just seven minutes to score past a defence that hadn’t conceded in more than 10 hours of football.
Medhi Benatia rose highest to head past Marc-André ter Stegen to give the supporters at the Allianz Arena some hope that their team could do the impossible. That lead and hope, however, was short-lived as Messi supplied a perfect through ball for Luis Suarez, who squared the ball to Neymar for the equaliser and grab the all-important away goal.
Further misery was to follow 15 minutes later as Suarez again broke clear in the 29th minute after Jerome Boateng has lost his marker to pick out Neymar for the Brazilians’ second goal.
By then the tie was all but over — Bayern needed six more going into the second-half. A humiliation the likes of the 7-0 suffered by the Catalan side at the hands of the Bavarians was on the cards.
Of Bayern’s impeccable fighting spirit
When the referee blew the whistle to kick off the second half, it was Bayern who took the initiative. They hustled, harried and pressed Barcelona from the word go to try and achieve the impossible.
Robert Lewandowski produced a moment of magic on the hour mark to beat Javier Mascherano before curling a shot beyond the diving Ter Stegen into the far corner from the edge of the box. Thomas Muller then added another with just 15 minutes to play from a similar position to give Bayern a 3-2 lead on the night. Still three goals were required but suddenly it was game on.
The Bavarians huffed and they puffed but the Blaugrana would not be breached again and as the last 10 minutes slowly ticked away, the home side finally had to resign themselves to their fate, ending up on the wrong side of a 5-3 loss.
“We believed in the miracle, but we couldn’t make it happen. It’s impossible to stop those players [Barcelona] for the whole 90 minutes. We didn’t lose it today, but lost in the first leg,” said Bayern skipper Philipp Lahm after the match.
Bayern certainly did believe in the miracle and certainly played with the intensity required to take on Barcelona. Although they fell short in the end by three goals, they went down fighting like champions and received well-deserved plaudits for their spirit.
What to take from the semi-final?
Although Bayern failed to qualify for the final, what they achieved was beyond anything that anyone could have expected — they made Barcelona look uncomfortable and forced them to work for their win. Even though the Blaugrana had a four-goal cushion to bank on at the end of the first half, the Bayern onslaught made it look as if it was the Catalans who were under pressure — a rare moment of vulnerability for the La Liga leaders.
Barcelona started making more mistakes and uncharacteristically lost possession. Even the introduction of Xavi Hernandez, known for his unshakable calm and immaculate control of the ball in midfield, could do little to curtail the Bayern romp and time and again Bayern kept piercing Barcelona’s defence.
Regardless of the outcome, the German salvaged their pride, maintained their home dominance over Barcelona and ensured that they bow out with their heads held high.
The standing ovation and the salute from the supporters at the end of the game was tantamount to the fact that the Germans were proud of their team, proud of the effort they displayed, proud of the way they never gave up.
Time was Bayern’s biggest enemy and while it was not to be in the end, pep Guardiola’s diminished side earned a massive psychological win over his previous one — a feat on its own.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2015.
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