x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Bayern Munich set up an all Bundesliga Uefa Champions League final

A 3-0 victory completes a 7-0 aggregate semi-final success over Barcelona to set up date with Borussia Dortmund.

Bayern Munich got the better of Barcelona in Camp Nou to reach the Uefa Champions League final.
Bayern Munich got the better of Barcelona in Camp Nou to reach the Uefa Champions League final.

BARCELONA // The news spread quickly around Camp Nou an hour before kick off. "Messi's on the bench," said fans in hushed tones, shaking their heads, like they were passing on news of a family bereavement.

The miracle Barcelona needed to reverse a 4-0 first-leg defeat in the Uefa Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich was extinguished before the game had even begun.

In the Bernabeu 24 hours earlier, the 'yes we can' mantra prevailed and Real Madrid fans sang it like they believed it.

In Camp Nou, the mood was flatter, more so when fans realised Lionel Messi, the man who has scored 30 per cent of Barcelona's European goals since making his debut in 2005, had been deemed unfit to start when he was most needed.

"It will be very difficult," opined the huge stadium's public address announcer pre-match, "but it's not impossible."

The tone of his voice betrayed his true feelings. Coach Tito Vilanova could have been more inspiring too.

"If we fail, we have to have fought to the end as we always have in recent years," he said.

"If" and "fail" - hardly the sabre rattling talk that was expected. But perhaps the time for wild optimism was over.

Bayern Munich were at full strength. Pre-match consensus among their 5,000 travelling fans was that they would lose but go through to a Wembley Stadium final against domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund.

They had lost 4-0 at Camp Nou in 2009, with all four Barca goals coming in the first half, but the current Barca side lacks their edge, speed, physical strength and comes up short in defence and attack, even if it contains many of the same personnel.

Bayern, in contrast, have improved thanks to expensive but top-level acquisitions like Manuel Neuer and Javi Martinez. They have reached two Champions League finals in the last three years and put four past Barcelona.

The home fans held up placards to read "Orgull" - pride in Catalan - but shorn of Sergio Busquets, Messi and Carles Puyol, this was an anaemic Barca, still dominant in possession but insecure in defence and ineffective in attack.

Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas were reluctant to shoot from outside the area and there was relief when Pedro had the audacity to shoot and test Manuel Neuer, but it was the away fans who were singing about going to the final throughout.

Xavi shot over Neuer's bar from five yards out after 27 minutes yet while his side had most of the possession, the best chance of the first half fell to Arjen Robben.

Jupp Heynckes's charges did what they needed to do. Supremely organised, they pressed from defence and were quick to counter attack. They have been the most impressive team in Europe this season and worthy finalists.

When Robben cut inside past Adriano and curled a 48th minute opener past Victor Valdes it gave the game a beautiful goal.

Now, it was Bayern's turn to dominate to the backdrop of Oles from their fans. They got a second when Pique turned in a low 72nd minute cross from Franck Ribery.

The icing on the cake came four minutes later as Thomas Muller headed home to complete the rout and leave Bayern dreaming of a date with fellow Bundesliga side Dortmund later this month.

What now for Barcelona? They will be crowned Spanish Primera Liga champions for the 22nd time in the next week or two.

That should not be dismissed at a club which saw just one title win in 25 years between 1960 and 1985.

Vilanova is likely to stay in charge, but Barca's pre-eminence has waned from the side which won the Champions League in 2009 and 2011 by outclassing all foes, even in the final. They need new players, reinvigoration and less predictable tactics.

For Bayern, it is a third final in four years, and on this showing this is only the beginning of the good times.


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