MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 25: Manuel Neuer of Bayern saves a penalty of Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid (not in the pictuKarim Benzemaduring the UEFA Champions League semi final second leg match between Real Madrid and Bayern Muenchen at Bernabeu Stadium on April 25, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The 2011-12 UEFA Champions League final is set, as FC Bayern Munich stamped their ticket with a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over Real Madrid. Bayern came into the day with a 2-1 aggregate lead over Real, but that quickly evaporated thanks to two quick Cristiano Ronaldo goals. Bayern kept heart and fought back, though, leveling through a Robben penalty and standing tough to take it to the kicks.
With the win, Bayern sets up a home-stadium showdown with Chelsea FC. Both clubs will be a little short-handed thanks to suspensions, but Bayern will probably come in as the bookmakers favorites. And if we play the way we played today, we have a great chance to achieve the pinnacle of the sport.
Both teams looked lively in the first few minutes, but as it settled in, Real was created more chances and looking a little more dangerous. The first goal, which resulted from a penalty called when the ball ricocheted off David Alaba's arm, was a little harsh. Probably a penalty by the book, but he definitely didn't deliberately hit it and the official will sometimes let that go. But in this case, it was called, and Ronaldo made good from the spot.
CR doubled the advantage a few minutes later, with Boateng getting split between two forwards and Lahm late to cover. At that point, Bayern had a huge hill to climb, and the player probably could have been forgiven for feeling a little hopeless. There was none of that, though, as we continued to press forward and fight for every loose ball. Mario Gomez made the breakthrough by drawing a penalty on a clear foul by Pepe (there was an argument for a red card here as well). Robben put it to the side, Casillas got a finger on it, but it hit the pipe and rattled in.
From that point on, I honestly thought we were the better side. Real had a few decent chances, but we sent the ball into their area at least 6 or 7 times, and if Gomez had the balls to shoot on his first touch, we might have won it without the need for penalties anyway. But, it went to the kicks, and ... we all know what happens when you go up against the Germans and leave it to the kicks.
For my money, Neuer was MOTM. Alaba was very lively down the left flank, Badstuber and Boateng were both solid, and Bastian is starting to find himself at the right time. But Neuer looked in control at all times, and when it came to the shoot-out, he came up huge.
Some other thoughts:
- Lahm is not that great on his feet, and CR beat him a few times. But that slithering slide-tackle is an amazingly effective move. He knows exactly how to time it to get the ball off the bottom of his foot and not get called for a foul - I think he even did it once in the box today.
- The number of players from both sides who will be suspended for the Final is ridiculous. UEFA really needs to rethink this system. I'll have a separate post up about that tonight or tomorrow.
- Biggest difference between the sides: after the 2d extra period was over, and the players were taking the field for the kicks. Real had everyone milling off by themselves, or in groups of 2 or 3, grumbling and looking at the ground. Bayern had everyone in a huddle, arms around each other, with Robben (the supposed "outcast" who's always rumored to be unpopular) urging everyone on. Sometimes in football, there are unseen and complex tactical factors determining who ends up winning. But other times, it's really easy to see why one team succeeds while another fails. Thanks for reading.