x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Mario Gomez leaves it late for Bayern Munich against Real Madrid

The German striker gives the home side the advantage ahead of Bernabeu trip, and hope of making the final in their home stadium.

Real Madrid's Mesut Oezil, centre,challenges Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery in the first-leg of their Uefa Champions League semi-final.
Real Madrid's Mesut Oezil, centre,challenges Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery in the first-leg of their Uefa Champions League semi-final.

Bayern Munich have not read the Spanish script. The Champions League final may yet be the most glamorous and momentous Gran Clasico yet, but not if the Germans can help it.

Their preferred ending entails lifting a fifth European Cup on home soil. Next month’s showpiece game will be played at the Allianz Arena and, thanks to Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez, Bayern may be featuring in it. They inflicted a first Champions League defeat of the season on Real Madrid and take a 2-1 lead to the Bernabeu Stadium next week.

Sent off in the semi-final two years ago, Ribery scored in it last night. Having spurned a host of chances, Gomez delivered the last-minute winner. If it was chance for redemption for them, others may regard last night as revenge. It was Jose Mourinho’s Inter who beat Bayern in the 2010 final; it was Real who sacked the Bavarians’ current coach, Jupp Heynckes in 1998, a week after ending their 32-year wait to win the European Cup.

Now the great survivor, whose coaching career began when Mourinho was still at school, is a draw away from upsetting the odds. Just when it appeared his side were unable to convert pressure into a second goal, their most reliable finisher finally found his shooting boots. Until then, Gomez had endured an off night.

When Toni Kroos guided a pass into his path, his rising, rasping shot was tipped over by Iker Casillas. When Ramos again failed to control the ball in his own box, he blazed over. And when Philipp Lahm crossed, the striker could not keep his header down. Another header was tame, a penalty appeal was rejected. And then, belatedly, persistence was rewarded. Lahm crossed, Gomez finished and the man with the Spanish surname put Bayern ahead for a second time.

They had been pegged back by a German. Bayern were carved open in the 53rd minute. Cristiano Ronaldo had the first opportunity, a shot that Manuel Neuer saved, but Karim Benzema latched on to the rebound. His cross-shot was retrieved by Ronaldo and unselfishly squared. Mesut Ozil arrived in the six-yard box for a tap-in.

Bayern had taken the lead after an eventful couple of minutes for Ribery and Sergio Ramos. First the Frenchman tumbled, rather theatrically, when the Spaniard tugged him in the penalty area. Referee Howard Webb ignored his entreaties for a spot kick, but he soon had a goal. A corner struck Ramos in the chest and bounced to Ribery, who drilled his shot through a crowded penalty area.

While Bayern entered the tie as underdogs, theirs was a purposeful, powerful performance. Quick on the counter-attack, their roving wingers impressed. In the battle of the flair players, Ronaldo was overshadowed by the former Real winger Arjen Robben. Ribery, too, exerted an influence. Bayern were the dominant side in the first half and the more ambitious outfit in pursuing a winner. They were relentless, resourceful and rewarded. Real, and Mourinho, have work to do.

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