Barca book spot in CL final despite second leg defeat by Bayern
Barcelona were beaten 3-2 on the night in their Champions League semi-final second leg, by a battling Bayern Munich, but still emerged 5-3 victors on aggregate, so the Catalan club can now pack their bags for Berlin, having snagged the first spot in the final.
As the first half got underway, with the Allianz Arena rocking, it looked as though the German giants could pull off another second leg surprise, having previously bounced back from disappointing results to smash earlier opponents Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk.
It took just eight minutes for centre back Mehdi Benatia to break Barca’s resistance. Having been left unmarked during a corner, the Morocco international headed past keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, giving Pep Guardiola’s guys real hope of turning the tie around.
Smelling blood, opportunistic Thomas Muller then pounced as Barcelona’s backline failed to clear their lines, but poacher Robert Lewandowski wasted the fruits of his clubmate’s persistent pressing by letting his chance trickle out.
Barca were let off the hook, and Bayern paid dearly for their lack of incisiveness, when Neymar found the net, and an all-important away goal, in the 14th minute. The visitors’ tenacious attacking trident took centre stage yet again, as an unusually quiet Lionel Messi pushed a superb pass through to onrushing Luis Suarez, who duly slid the ball across the box for Brazil superstar Neymar to nudge home.
It was a cruel blow to the Bavarians’ hopes, but Pep Guardiola’s guys refused to let their heads drop and seemed intent on at least racking up a respectable scoreline.
Germany stopper Ter Stegen pulled off yet more tremendous saves, showing of his goalkeeping credentials to international rival Manuel Neuer, as he denied Munich’s swift response. First a looping Muller header was tipped away, and the young custodian was also equal to Lewandowski’s later toe poke.
Another missed Muller chance, crafted by tricky ex-Barca boy Thiago Alcantara, then in-turn exposed Bayern’s lacklustre backline, who were left breathless by a brilliant Barca counter attacker.
Sloppy Benatia was beaten to a header by Messi, who nodded on for Suarez, and the Uruguayan again turned provider for Neymar, who struck his second of the evening with a sweeping finish on the 29th minute mark.
A terrific save from Ter Stegen, who stretched to scoop Lewandowski’s effort off the line, saw Barca head into the break assured, while Bayern were once again left to rue mistakes mirrored from their first leg failure.
The Munich men emerged stronger in the second half, enjoying lengthy spells of possession as Barca wobbled a little under Bayern’s earnest attacking endeavors. It was Lewandowski who eventually made amends for earlier misses in the 58th minute, as his quick feet outfoxed the Catalans on the edge of their area before the subsequent curling strike left Ter Stegen no chance.
It was a real show of strength and character from Guardiola’s side, in a much more composed and calculated second half performance which subdued the until then brilliantly potent Barcelona.
Muller made it 3-2 in the 78th minute, after snatching at Bastian Schweinsteiger’s lovely lay-off to fire low into the right hand corner, and give the Catalan giants a real fright. The German goal machine’s efforts were ultimately in vain, however, as overhauling Barcelona with a further three goals was too tough a task, even for these comeback kings.
Barca will now head back to Spain triumphant but somewhat shaken, and will wait eagerly to find out whether bitter rivals Real Madrid or Juventus will join them in the Champions League final.
As for Bayern, it was once again incredibly careless defending and an overzealous commitment to pushing players forward that became their undoing. Despite a commendable performance in front of home fans, the Bundesliga champions’ season will now end in somewhat of a slump. Fortune usually favours the brave but, when playing Barcelona, patience can be a virtue.