Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid: Germans Show They Belong in Champions League Hunt
As stereotypes go, ruthless efficiency and dogged organization have always served German soccer well.
And as semifinals go, they might just turn this one into a classic.
Bayern Munich defeated Real Madrid at home on Tuesday night, 2-1, in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal. In victory, the hosts were nothing if not methodical, and in defeat, the visitors can still claim optimism for the second leg.
The Germans took a first-half lead through the slippery (and sometimes downright silly) Franck Ribery, lost it shortly after the break to a goal from one of Real Madrid's two German internationals and finally plucked a late winner after wasting a handful of chances in the closing moments.
In their season-long quest to secure a home date in next month's Champions League, Jupp Heynckes' men now need only a draw in next week's second leg in Spain. Even a loss would do the trick, provided Bayern lose by only a goal and score more than Real did on Tuesday.
Bayern deserved the victory, but even so, the first leg wasn't necessarily supposed to play out this way.
Real—La Liga leaders, four points ahead of mighty Barcelona and Lionel Messi—were favored to win, if not on the night then surely over two legs.
And besides, hasn't an El Clasico final been written in the stars all season?
Maybe not, and if you're a Real Madrid supporter—or merely a confused neutral—searching for answers in the post-match gloom, look no further than that tried, tested, Teutonic formula.
Just don't think for a second that this tie is over.
Bayern got their tactics right from the start. Toni Kroos started high in the midfield, with the inspirational Bastian Schweinsteiger holding centrally.
The combination allowed Bayern to control the middle while attacking on the flank. What's more, the hosts maintained their shape and focus through Real's equalizer and pressed the right amount at the right time for the winner.
After an early spell of Real Madrid pressure, Bayern opened the scoring thanks to Ribery's predatory finishing. A Sergio Ramos mistake gave Ribery a split-second opening, and the slick French winger slipped a shot under the helpless Iker Casillas.
It was hardly deserved, but for the rest of the half, Bayern made every bit of their advantage count with an efficient display.
As B/R world football editor Will Tidey posted on Twitter:
Bayern have got this tactically spot-on, attacking Madrid wide and not giving Ronaldo an inch to goosestep into. 2nd half red card anyone?— Will Tidey (@willtidey) April 17, 2012
The red card never came (though it probably should have for Marcelo), but it wasn't for a lack of frustration on Real's part. Even after the visitors equalized through Mesut Ozil, Bayern created better chances and did more with their possessions.
Real started with four attackers, and an early period of dominance followed. It yielded no goals, but Karim Benzema came close in the seventh minute after an inch-perfect through pass from Ozil.
Real struggled to find space for the rest of the first half, and until Ozil's equalizer, Bayern were clearly the better side. After Ozil's goal, Jose Mourinho brought on Esteban Granero in a move clearly designed to consolidate the draw, but the move didn't work.
Instead, Bayern introduced Thomas Müller for Schweinsteiger, upped the speed of attack and regained superiority.
Then Gomez popped up at the right place late in the match and gave Bayern the win their superiority deserved. And while Real came within moments of hanging on for the draw, that had more to do with Gomez's poor finishing before his goal.
But while the subject is superiority, let's get this out in the open: Real Madrid have the more talented squad.
At the upper end of the flair scale sit Cristiano Ronaldo's stepovers, Ozil's Dracula impersonation and the resurgent genius of Kaka (unused as he was Tuesday night). At the other end of it lie Marcelo and Pepe, each of whom possess the powers of brutality and anti-attacking wizardry in varying proportions.
Who will advance to the Champions League final?
If they work in unison next week at the Bernabeu, Real should win the match and the tie, advancing to next month's Champions League final.
Another possibility, based on Tuesday's evidence, is a second tight match—and a dramatic finish.
Bayern might not be able to match the flair—or the brutality—of Real Madrid, but on Tuesday the Germans showed they can hold their own with trusty tricks like efficiency, organization and tactics.
In two-legged European knockout ties, the better team generally wins. Inconceivable as it might sound to some, Bayern Munich are only 90 minutes away from proving they're the better team.
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