Bayern & Real keep everyone guessing

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Mario Gomez's 89th minute winner has firmly installed Bayern Munich as pantomime villains after the first act of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

The clamour for an El Clasico final has somewhat overshadowed Bayern's own conquest to reach the final at their own ground, an opportunity they spurned in 1997.

After failing to qualify via their Bundesliga position the previous season, their greatest rivals Borussia Dortmund went all the way to the final at the old Olympic Stadium.

A European Cup victory has since come in 2001, but this year Munich face a greater challenge; trying to break the Barcelona-Real Madrid stronghold. On this particularly evening, they succeeded.

Unlike their adversary's Barcelona, Real required little time to find their passing rhythm. Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira dominated the midfield, keeping Luiz Gustavo at arm's length, as Bastian Schweinsteiger's metronomic passing game, much like his full match fitness, eluded him.

Amid their trials, Munich's uncharacteristic battlers came to the fore. Franck Ribery fought like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier for every ball, Arjen Robben began to run Fabio Coentrao, who was given little support in his attempts to fight off both Robben and Philipp Lahm ragged, while Cristiano Ronaldo's influence waned after a spate of dead-ball efforts.

It was noticeable that as Ronaldo floated out of the contest, that not only did Bayern's attacks become more potent and regular, but so did the influence of Lahm. The German full-back provided the assist for Gomez's late strike, who netted at the fourth time of asking in the second period, after doing little to further burgeon his reputation previously

Gomez's goal, while it certainly hands Bayern the momentum going into the second leg, leaves the tie delicately poised.

Jose Mourinho's post-match soliloquy suggested he was content with the result while he expects Madrid to reach next month's final. Shock horror, Jupp Heynckes believes much the same.

However, rather than dismiss both manager's post-match comments as nothing more than back-page filler; their sentiments, whether intended or not, should be taken with more credence. You need only look at the record books to know that Real's away goal all but gives them a golden ticket to the final.

But, unless one was expecting a Bayern rout, any result would have required the Bundesliga side to go to the Bernabeu and score. Having netted 63 goals at home in La Liga, even a 2-0 win would have, in all likelihood, required Heynckes' side to score.

The late intervention therefore sets up an intriguing second leg. Both sides will be obligated to chase goals, with neither having the luxury to sit back. Forget the El Clasico this weekend, or a potential Champions League final in May, next week's second leg could be Europe's true star attraction.

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European News
Arjen Robben
Xabi Alonso
UEFA Champions League
Cristiano Ronaldo

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