Following a night of high drama in Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu, Bayern Munich booked themselves a dream final at their “home” ground, where they will face Chelsea FC of the Barclays Premier League on 19th May.
Fans of Chelsea and Bayern Munich will descend on the Allianz Arena in Munich with the Bundesliga’s Bayern firm favourites – principally for home advantage – after each side overcame strongly fancied Spanish opposition in exciting semi-finals.
Though many had anticipated, following the draw, an el Classico UEFA Final, between Real Madrid and holders Barcelona, the teams from Germany and England both came through tricky away fixtures in this week’s UEFA Champions League 2011/12 Semi-Final Second Leg matches.
First Chelsea, who carried a slender 1-0 lead to holding champions, Barcelona, visited Camp Nou knowing that they would need to stop a prolific outfit widely regarded as the world’s best contemporary club side. Barca quickly reaffirmed this status by racing away to a 2-0 home lead, taking the aggregate lead in the process, when Busquets broke the deadlock just after half an hour, before Iniesta added a vital second on 43 minutes. A more important moment in the context of this Semi-Final – and the Final, too – came between these strikes, on 37 minutes, when Chelsea captain John Terry was shown a straight red card for what looked like an aggressive knee.
With half time fast approaching; Terry off the pitch; and Chelsea on ten men, trailing, as they were, 2-1 on aggregate, at the home of Barcelona, one could have forgiven stand-in Chelsea coach Roberto Di Mateo and his men for giving up hope. Instead Chelsea, who had been, as is par for the course, strongly second-best in terms of possession thus far, managed to salvage something from what would otherwise have proved a desperate half when Ramires bagged a vital away goal one minute into stoppage time.
As a result, the sides came in with Chelsea trailing in terms of the players on the park, but actually, if the match could finish there and then, in the lead over the two legs. Chelsea’s task, therefore, was to shut out one of the world’s best attacking sides, at their home ground, where they are the most free-scoring.
Remarkably, Chelsea not only achieved this feat, but took the score-line to 2-2 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate, when Spanish Fernando Torres, on for Didier Drogba after 80 minutes, scored the goal which underlined Chelsea’s ascension to the very heights of European football on 90+2. Two goals required for the hosts. Mission impossible. Chelsea progressed.
Defeat came hard for the hosts, though, for it followed a missed penalty from world’s best player, Lionel Messi, who had an uncharacteristically quiet evening, though much credit must go to Chelsea’s defenders and goalkeeper Petr Cech, who kept out a number of attempts, and clung onto the match despite trailing the possession stats 72:28.
On Wednesday evening, another blockbuster was promised at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu, where two old-time European giants met for another grueling encounter. Bayern carried a 2-1 lead into the match though Real, unlike their compatriots in Barcelona, did have an away goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo quickly set about putting one foot in the Final, as he first hammered home a penalty on 6 minutes, then doubled Real’s lead on the night with a cool finish from the edge of the area just 8 minutes later. Real then led 2-0 on the evening, and 3-2 on aggregate. But Bayern are experienced heads at this European game, and they were soon back threatening to get into the tie. Arjen Robben had already missed a gilt edged chance from 6 yards when he was given an even better opportunity from just a handful more: another penalty.
A cross from Kroos, who had been Bayern’s best play-maker, was heading towards their prolific striker, Gomez, before the slightest of tugs from defender Pedro. Gomez tumbled, and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Robben placed the ball and smashed it towards the bottom left corner where, despite a firm-looking hand from Iker Casillas, it just nestled into the net, drawing the tie absolutely level on 27 minutes.
An enthralling tie, with more goals, looked to be on the cards after half an hour of entertaining and absorbing football. Despite both teams threatening to add to the scoreline – with Bayern spurning the opportunity to take a couple of clear-cut chances – the match gradually headed towards extra time. Real were the most relieved to pass 90 minutes, as Bayern had been strong in T2, though it was the Germans who clung on as the clock ticked through an additional half hour which saw only a Real Madrid half-chance – and an offside flag stymieing what looked to be a match winning moment for the hosts.
Penalties it would be to decide this tie.
Time for someone to make a name for himself. That someone would prove to be Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal as the stopper dived hard and low to his right to keep out Real’s first spot-kick, from Cristiano Ronaldo. The ‘keeper then followed suit with a similar, but more difficult, save from Kaka, in the process saving vital Champions League penalties from over €100,000,000’s worth of footballing talent. The stuff of dreams for any young goalkeeper. When Bayern slotted their first two penalties, from David Alaba and Mario Gomez – to stunned silence – the writing appeared already to be on the wall for the hosts.
But Casillas was to make his mark, too, by saving from Phillip Lahm and Toni Kroos – both of whom had been impressive over 120 minutes – before Sergio Ramos stepped up to level things at 2-2. He blazed his penalty way over the bar as Real coach Jose Mourinho sunk to his knees on the touchline. Bayern’s Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up and coolly poked a penalty straight down the middle to take the score to an insurmountable 3-1 to the visitors, and put Bayern into their home final.
While Bayern are favourites in Munich, for obvious reasons, both have proved – in both legs – by these Semi-Final performances alone to be in the final on merit. A close encounter looks to be on the cards. Several players will be missing that final, however, as a slew of yellow cards – and one semi-final red – mean that Chelsea will be without four players and Bayern six when the teams face-off at the Allianz arena on 19 May.
Many in Munich will now be scrambling to be there for the Bayern home final; there are sure to be plenty of visiting Londoners in town, too, for Chelsea’s big day out. The draw made Bayern, the geographical hosts, the official “home” team, too, so they will be spared the distance even of travelling to the away dressing room.
Bayern Munich v Chelsea F.C. takes place on the evening of Saturday 19th May 2012 at Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany. Kick-Off is 20:45 CET (19:45 BST).