Bayern Munich took a huge step towards the Champions League semi-finals last night, when goals from Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben gave the Bundesliga giants a clinical 2-0 victory over a lackluster Marseille side in their quarter-final first leg clash at Stade Velodrome.
Out of form, hampered by injuries and suspensions, and jeered by their own fans, the hosts barely tested Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer throughout the tie as Didier Deschamps' players slipped to their eighth defeat in the last nine games.
The Ligue 1 outfit did create a few early chances, notably when Rod Fanni's header was parried by Neuer into the path of French international Loic Remy, who lashed his close-range shot wide.
Gomez gave the visitors the lead just before half-time with his 11th goal of the competition, the 26-year-old latching on to Robben's defence-splitting pass, which sent him clear through on goal before slipping the ball under third-choice Marseille stopper Elinton Andrade.
Midway through a second half that the Bundesliga giants dominated, and the Dutch winger doubled Munich's lead after playing a neat one-two with Thomas Muller in the box before slotting coolly into the bottom corner.
Next week's return leg at the Allianz Arena - the stadium that will host this year's Champions League final - should provide an opportunity for Jupp Heynckes' team to book their place in the next round, where they will likely face La Liga leaders and nine time European Cup winners Real Madrid.
The Spanish side brushed aside Cypriot minnows APOEL 3-0 in their first leg encounter, and barring a major shock at the Santiago Bernabeu next week, will also progress to the last-four.
Madrid will pose the biggest test for Bayern in the Champions League so far this year, and will probably be slight favourites to make it through to the final over two legs.
The German’s away form is somewhat inconsistent both domestically and in Europe, with a 2-0 loss to Manchester City in the group stage, and a 1-0 defeat against Basel in Switzerland in the previous round, providing examples of apparent weakness.
However, with the creative flair of the aforementioned Robben and Frank Ribery on the opposite flank, accompanied by the combined attacking threat of German international trio Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and emerging talent Toni Kroos, Munich must not be underestimated.
Club captain Philip Lahm adds a wealth of experience at the back, and in Gomez they have a prolific frontman who boasts 23 Bundesliga goals this season, in addition to moving one behind Barcelona star Lionel Messi at the top of the Champions League scoring charts.
It's true that Bayern have often underachieved in European competition in recent years, last winning the Champions League in 2001. They were losing finalists to Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in 2010, but that heartache could act as an incentive for payback against the Portuguese tactician in the semi-finals as the club continues to make dynamic strides this year.
For a side that has been weighed down by the pressure of expectation created by former glories owing to the club’s illustrious history, it has never been shy of speaking about their prior achievements or future prospects.
Three successive European Cup triumphs between 1974 and 1976 helped emboss the legendary names of Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller on the memory of world football, as one of the most charismatic teams to have graced the game.
Today, there is not such a celebrity culture at Bayern, but there is no reason why their authority should not be felt in due course. Their impact can still be great.
A responsive 7-0 thrashing of Basel in the last-16 second leg only further highlights the intentions of a club that has always had a strong aversion to understatement.
Appearing in the Champions League last-eight for the fourth time in six years, and on course for their second last-four appearance in three seasons, Bayern Munich are upwardly mobile in their pursuit of European dominance in 2012.
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