After last week’s 4-0 hammering of FC Barcelona in the Allianz Arena in their semi-final first leg, Bayern subjected the Catalans to an equally humiliating 3-0 defeat in the return fixture on Wednesday night to reach the Champions League final in the most emphatic of fashions. “Nights like this you have to enjoy”, declared Arjen Robben after the match.
“We have shown over the two games that we are a team that play extremely good football”, beamed head coach Jupp Heynckes in the post-match press conference. “We play with pace, are well organised, tactically astute, close down the spaces and are good on the counter-attack. From back to front, we are a team.”
And nobody could argue with him. For the second time in the space of eight days, the Bavarians had dismantled the mighty Barcelona and this time in their own backyard, the same ground on which the Reds lost the 1999 final to Manchester United in heart-breaking fashion by conceding two goals in second-half stoppage time.
Just under twelve months ago, the type of scenes that unfolded at the final whistle in Barcelona would have been unimaginable to even the most ardent of Bayern supporters. They had just been beaten by Chelsea on penalties on their own turf, the third of three second-placed finishes that season that rocked the club to its core. So deep was the hurt that chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge described it as “even more painful that ’99.”
Yet in an odd way, Rummenigge & Co. might now be feeling oddly grateful for that gut-wrenching night, as it has produced a team so determined to exorcise those demons that they are sweeping all before them. “You can learn a lot more from a defeat than from a victory”, prophesied Heynckes. “[After Chelsea] We sat down with the players, talked things over and made some changes.” Those changes would seem to be working, and an historic treble is now one step closer.
Time to win it
However, as glorious as these two victories over a team Robben describes as "the best in the world in the last five years" have been, they will not count for much if the Reds fall at the final hurdle, as they did in 2010 as well as 2012, a reality that the wing wizard is all too aware of. “We said immediately after the game, ‘Now we have to win it.’ We have played a superb season, and we have to complete it on 25 May.”
Awaiting them in the final are domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund, meaning there will be a German Champions League winner for the first time since 2001. It was Bayern then, and Robben is adamant that it will be Bayern now: "We are in the final for the third time in four years and now we have to win it. It’s going to be a big one.” Indeed, victory in the first all-German final could hardly be more memorable.
Michael Reis and Bernie Reeves