x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Schweinsteiger penalty puts Bayern through to Champions League final

Ronaldo, Kaka and Ramos all miss in the shootout for Real Madrid as Germans set up showdown with Chelsea

Bayern Munich's David Alaba, left, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, right, rob Real's Angel Di Maria of the ball last night. Christof Koepsel / Getty Images
Bayern Munich's David Alaba, left, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, right, rob Real's Angel Di Maria of the ball last night. Christof Koepsel / Getty Images

Real Madrid 2-1 Bayern Munich

(4-4 on aggregate, Bayern win 3-1 on penalties)

Rare are the occasions when a semi-final in club football’s greatest competition disappoints. After the engrossing study in defensive defiance provided by a triumphant Chelsea in Barcelona 24 hours earlier, the capital of Spain hosted a showdown of gripping ebb and flow and greater brilliance than the previous night.

For that, Bayern Munich, who knocked out Real Madrid at the Bernabeu via a penalty shoot-out, will certainly start as favourites to lift the Champions League in their own stadium, on May 19th.

The goals in open play had been compacted into a dynamic first-half, two of them from Real's Cristiano Ronaldo and one, in reply, from Arjen Robben.

Both converted penalties in normal time that would eventually send the tie to its denouement via pot-shots from 12 yards.

There is always a sense of regret for the team who loses via that method and for the individuals who do not convert.

Ronaldo, Kaka and Sergio Ramos failed to score their penalties for Real; only Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm had their spot-kicks saved for Bayern, leaving Bastian Schweinsteiger to put the German club into a final they must contest without the supended David Alaba and Holger Badstuber, who were booked last night.

For three and a half hours, these sides had matched each other goal for goal, blow for blow, strength for strength, weakness for weakness.

After 90 minutes, the 2-1 scoreline in favour of the home side from the first leg had been mirrored in the second. Just as a Madrid left-back, Fabio Coentrao, had suffered a tortured evening in Munich eight days ago – he was dropped from the starting XI last night, in favour of Marcelo – the torture would be applied the other way early on in Spain.

Alaba, at 19, is the youngster in Bayern’s XI, a talented Austria international; he converted his penalty in the shoot-out but earlier the Bayern left-back had been the target of Real's early pressure.

Real started aggressively. Jose Mourinho, their head coach, had urged Xabi Alonso, his best long passer, to test Alaba with long diagonal balls to Angel di Maria, wide on the Real right.

One invited Di Maria to squirm past Alaba, and angle back a cross. The advancing Sami Khedira struck it, hard, but directly at Manuel Neuer. Bayern were in retreat, and poor Alaba would soon be stung.

A Di Maria cross, hit on the volley, struck the full-back on the arm as he tried to keep his balance. He received a yellow card. Worse, Real were awarded a penalty.

Ronaldo scored from it. Though he would have his effort in the shootout saved by Neuer in the shootout, that is not his habit. The world’s most expensive footballer put Real ahead in the 90 minutes with his 25th consecutive successful penalty. There are some things he genuinely does better than Lionel Messi.

A terrific semi-final was under way. Alaba, showing gumption after his personal setback, dashed down his flank to send in a menacing cross. Robben met it, with Casillas vulnerable, and volleyed over the crossbar. The Dutchman had been inside the six-yard box. It looked a bad miss.

Mario Gomez would later be guilty of inefficient finishing, not for the first time, but the Bayern centre-forward was working himself into useful positions, which encouraged the visitors. A Gomez drive, of great power, would thunder against the palms of Casillas. Only Khedira’s alertness prevented Ribery capitalising on the loose ball.

If Khedira was impressive in the first half in his twin roles as buttress in front of Real's back four and a useful bulldozer joining in attack, his compatriot Mesut Ozil also provided pleasing moments for Jogi Low, the watching Germany head coach.

Low looks mainly to Bayern for his team’s spine, but Real's German duo are key players for him. Only Ozil can regularly provide brilliant, measured, swift through balls like the one that set up Ronaldo’s second goal, another polished finish.

Real had the lead on aggregate, though not for long.

Gomez won Bayern’s penalty, judged to have been pushed by Pepe. Robben, ex of Real, took the spot-kick against the goalkeeper he once knew as a club colleague and Casillas guessed rightly which way to dive, reaching the effort with his fingertips, though the power behind Robben’s shot was just sufficient for it to squeeze inside Casillas’s right-hand post.

Just before the interval, Robben ought probably to have another chance from the penalty spot, his own free-kick deflected off Pepe’s arm when the Portugal defender was in the 18-yard box.

The sheer energy of the opening period was bound to fade. With the teams level, a caginess took hold. Benzema frightened Bayern when he escaped close attention and drew a sharp save from Neuer; Arbeloa collected a rather inevitable yellow card when for the umpteenth time in the tie Ribery outfoxed him.

With so much at stake, and the spectre of extra-time looming, and symptoms of fatigue showing, nobody wanted to be the man who made a decisive error. Nobody wanted to be the man who fluffed in the shoot-out, but three senior Real players would be.


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