Bayern Munich have beaten Real Madrid 2-1 in a tight and rather vicious first leg of their Champions League semifinal. The Bavarians are now one decent result away from the final, to be played at their home ground.
Bayern Munich only - if that's the right word - need one good result against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu next Wednesday to secure a place in the Champions League final.
The Bavarians beat their Spanish visitors 2-1 at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night, with Mario Gomez restoring their early lead in the dying moments of a rather ill-tempered encounter.
Already the premier competition in European football, the prospect of a final on home turf has made this encounter the focal point of Bayern's season - not least because of the state of play in the Bundesliga.
Bayern effectively conceded the league title over the past ten days, and yet the game against Real still represented their sternest test so far in what is often club football's cruelest month, April.
German international keeper Manuel Neuer was called into action within seven minutes in front of the home fans, leaping to palm away a shot from French international Karim Benzema.
Bayer star Franck Ribery was apoplectic on the quarter-hour mark when he hit the deck in the Real Madrid penalty area, but was not awarded a penalty. Replays showed a very slight tug on his shirt from Sergio Ramos, but perhaps the Frenchman's reputation for theatrics preceded him.
This lit the fire in Ribery's belly; he soon took his revenge. Ramos failed to clear a Toni Kroos corner and the winger pounced, blasting the ball home with his right foot.
Jose Mourinho's Real had never trailed in their entire season's Champions League campaign, until 17 minutes into Tuesday's semifinal. It wasn't long until Portuguese superstar Christiano Ronaldo blasted a long-range free kick just over Neuer's bar, a warning to the German hosts and to captain Philipp Lahm - who had sloppily conceded the set piece.
Ronaldo, however, struggled to stamp his authority on the game more generally - not least thanks to a teenage Austrian too easily forgotten. David Alaba, a midfielder by trade who has become a staple at left back for Bayern this season, looked majestic all night as he largely contained the world's most expensive player.
Bayern defended admirably and held onto their lead all the way through to the 53rd minute, only to suddenly concede the softest of goals in a total lapse of concentration.
Philipp Lahm was most at fault in the early going, leaving Ronaldo all alone on the inside left channel against Neuer. Bayern's keeper saved the day, but Real recovered the ball; five red shirts in the penalty area got nowhere near Benzema, Angel di Maria and finally Mesut Özil, who finished at the third attempt against an ultimately helpless Neuer. Bayern's obdurate lion between the sticks, already prostrate from his second save during the passage of play, still swung a leg at the final finish. Had his back line put in half as much effort during their moment of madness, the goal would never have fallen.
After returning to a balanced, hard-fought game for the subsequent 15 minutes, Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho appeared to seek to settle for the away score-draw. He substituted goal-scorer and playmaker Özil for the more defensive minded Marcelo, responding to the attacking introduction of Thomas Müller by Bayern's coach Jupp Heynckes.
Müller himself had a good chance shortly thereafter but his volley sailed over the bar. Mario Gomez was much closer with a near-post header from a Phillip Lahm cross moments later, as Bayern regained the ascendancy with 20 minutes to play.
Gomez gets even, too
The game ended almost as it had begun, with Bayern furious over not being given a penalty. This time it was Mario Gomez brought down in the box. Referee Howard Webb did not blow his whistle – and replays showed one Real Madrid defender make a perfect sliding challenge, while another also slid in, tripping the German striker without getting close to the ball. A difficult call, to say the least - but Gomez had a clear opinion on the matter.
Truth be told, Gomez had a largely quiet game, yet he found several good chances, and knocked in his 20th goal in 16 Champions League games.
The last few minutes of an increasingly ill-tempered encounter were notable mainly for a vicious foul on substitute Müller by fellow sub Marcelo. Referee Howard Webb, explicitly criticized by Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after the game, issued only a yellow card - as he had done earlier when Sergio Ramos clumsily clattered into Müller from behind.
Webb brandished nine yellow cards in total, six of them to Real players, in a game that might have merited one or two reds.
With a 2-1 advantage, Bayern will now travel to the Bernabeu for the second leg in Madrid next Wednesday. The Germans also have no league matches to worry about, judging by the sub-strength side fielded at the weekend in a goalless draw with Mainz that suggested the Bavarians have given up on the Bundesliga title.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, are still locked together with Spanish rivals Barcelona in domestic competition. They travel to the Nou Camp on Saturday to take on the Champions League holders, just a few days ahead of the return leg against Bayern.
Nevertheless, Mesut Özil's optimistic prediction in the post-match interview is by no means out of the question. With a sizeable smirk, he told Sky Germany "we'll see you again soon here in Munich." He was clearly alluding to the Champions League final, at the Allianz Arena, on Saturday May 19.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Spencer Kimball