Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Champions League Semifinals

Bayern Munich  7 : 0  Barcelona (aggregate)
Sports Illustrated:
Arjen Robben finished the tie off three minutes after halftime at Camp Nou, but in truth, it was finished a week ago at Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich completed the task, a 3-0 win and 7-0 aggregate, with rather less alarm than Borussia Dortmund had against Real Madrid the previous night, and so there will be, as had always seemed likely after the first legs, an all-German Champions League final.

Bayern held a 4-0 aggregate lead heading into Wednesday's clash in Catalunya, and Barcelona were dealt a huge blow ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg after Sergio Busquets (groin) and Eric Abidal (calf) were both ruled out through injury.

Barça were already without fellow defenders Javier Mascherano (knee) and Carles Puyol (knee), while fullback Jordi Alba was suspended after picking up a yellow card in the first leg in Munich.

Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova said that Lionel Messi aggravated a hamstring injury in Saturday's match and would only have been risked late on if a comeback had been possible.

Much has been written about Barça's philosophy and the advantages of the production line from La Masia. When it works, of course, it is a magnificent thing, but there is nothing in football that is not relative, and this is the downside: Barça's style is so idiosyncratic -- which is what made it great, unstoppable even, at times -- that outsiders find it extremely hard to adapt to. The shortage of central defenders, meanwhile, that left Barça to pick a novice like Marc Bartra because of only two injuries (and one of those to a 35-year-old) can only be attributed to poor squad management.

That means that when things go wrong, there is no quick fix. Even if there is another brilliant generation in the offing, it's much harder to bed them in a struggling side than one that is thriving. The economic model of modern football means that, barring something cataclysmic, Barcelona will remain among the top two in Spain and among the top 10 sides in Europe, but it is now some way from the continent's top one. Not for 26 years had it lost both legs of a European tie.

Pep Guardiola built his team around Lionel Messi. Without Messi it seems to have fallen in on itself. Back in 2009 Barcelona beat Bayern Munich 4-0 at the Nou Camp in a Champions League quarter-final first leg. Messi scored twice that night but the support card included Samuel Eto'o, Theirry Henry and Yaya Touré. Those players have gone and there was no-one to pick up the baton as Messi sat in the dugout nursing a sore hamstring.

Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes said: “Messi is fundamental for Barcelona but Bayern right now is a very strong adversary, tactically, physically and in terms of commitment. Last season [after being beaten in the final by Chelsea in their own stadium] we were devastated. But the very next day we set about preparing for the following season.”

The exit could surely be no more humbling. Or at least they thought so until the 73rd minute when Franck Ribéry crossed and Gerard Pique hammered the ball past his own keeper for the second. Thomas Müller headed in another Ribéry cross to make it 3-0. “Football's coming home,” sang the German fans. It has, temporarily at least, deserted Barcelona.

Bayern, who won the Bundesliga in record time this season, will contest a third Champions League final in four seasons, where they will meet fellow German side Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on 25 May.

Borussia Dortmund  4 : 3  Real Madrid (aggregate)
Borussia Dortmund survived a frantic finish at the Bernabeu to reach the Champions League final despite two late goals by Real Madrid. Karim Benzema gave Real hope from close range in the 82nd minute and Sergio Ramos scored a second soon after. Ramos also headed wide in injury time but Dortmund held on.

Real, trailing 4-1 from the first leg, needed to score three times without reply to progress but wasted a series of early chances in an open game. This was Real's third consecutive Champions League semifinal under boss Jose Mourinho, having lost the previous two.

Robert Lewandowski had produced a striker's masterclass as he scored four goals in a commanding first leg victory for Dortmund. The Poland striker volleyed in Mario Götze's cross at the back post early on before Cristiano Ronaldo tapped in.

With his contract due to expire at the end of next season, the forward has been a reported summer target for Manchester United and Bayern Munich. And his value will increase no end after he became the first player to score four times in a Champions League semi-final.

Mario Götze is set to become the most expensive German player of all time after Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich announced the Dortmund midfielder will join them this summer. The release clause is reported to be $48 million. The previous most expensive transfer involving a German player was striker Mario Gomez's $41 million move to Bayern from Stuttgart in 2009.

Bleacher Report:
Dortmund, previously unbeaten in Europe this season, looked shaken, but they recovered their composure at the back and, for all Real's efforts during five minutes of injury time, a third goal was beyond them.

Bundesliga champions each of the previous two seasons, Borussia Dortmund were swept aside by Bayern Munich with frightening ease this term as the Bavarians romped to the title in record-breaking style. Dortmund's European adventure, however, has been much more fulfilling—and dramatic.

Along the way, Dortmund have produced both the impressive and the improbable. Jurgen Klopp's inexperienced side won Group D, the so-called "Group of Death," despite the presence of big names like Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax. Along with last week's stunning 4-1 destruction of Real Madrid, there was also an unlikely escape against Malaga in the previous round.

More information:
» Bleacher Report: Champions League Final Preview

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