A late goal from Mario Gomez gave Bayern Munich a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid , and kept the Germans on course to be the first team to host and win a Champions League final since 1960.
It was absorbing, scintillating show at the Allianz that dealt Real Madrid only its first loss of this Champions League campaign. Steered by a magnificent performance from Franck Ribery and aided by some inept defending on Real's part, this was a game that felt raw from the opening whistle.
Madrid have a long record of futility in Munich. Yet, a side boasting Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil was widely thought to have been superior to a Bundesliga side that has seen much diminished.
Yes, the tandem of Arjen Robben and Ribery is one of the most potent axes in the sport. Plus, Gomez trails only Lionel Messi in the golden boot race in this year's European Cup. But somehow, the Bavarians don't seem to have the sheen of any of the remaining sides in this tournament, and they seemed a wounded animal after essentially conceding the league title to Dortmund last week.
People may wish to reassess that view after tonight's performance. Bayern routinely exploited Real's left flank, tested keeper Iker Casillas at will, and overcame a shoddy performance from two of their key players to grind out a fully deserved win. If a Munich side can shut down Real despite a poor game from Robben, and overcome a handful of badly muffed chances from Gomez, what does that say about our opinion of Jose Mourinho's side?
Certainly, Mourinho is at fault for starting Fabio Coentrao and not Marcelo tonight, a gamble that blew up immediately from the start. Torched repeatedly by Ribery and company, Coentrao was dragged out of position all night, exposing the soft underbelly that is Sergio Ramos. Coentrao was directly at fault on the winning, goal when Philipp Lahm left him for dead and serviced Gomez in the box. That particular instance signaled the culmination of a series of increasingly bitter gaffes.
Ramos was better, though he arguably could be excused for having to repeatedly cover for his Portuguese comrade. He gifted Ribery the opener when he made a hash of a Toni Kroos corner kick and basically shoved the ball to Ribery, allowing him to fire low and hard past a helpless Casillas. He would later commit a series of foolish tackles that ruined Real's offensive rhythm.
That defensive frailty, offset by Bayern's own high line and gift for rarely making mistakes, forced Real into playing a game they simply couldn't win. They made far too many touches on the ball, allowing the Bavarians to get back defensively to throttle the midfield.
Cristiano Ronaldo didn't do his reputation any favors tonight, either. He's a true magician. But unlike his archrival at Barcelona, his status of disappearing during clutch moments continued Tuesday night. Ronaldo was pushed to the margins, and the only reason he was involved in a scoring play was because Manuel Neuer couldn't stop Ozil. Ronaldo showed a lot of emotion to be sure, but very little ability to chase or shape the game.
Once Real were able to steal a goal, Mourinho made his second mistake. He pulled off his best player on the night, the visionary Ozil, and attempted to park the bus. This only removed the chance of Real adding another goal and allowed Bayern to pepper them in the end.. Had Gomez not been so wasteful when Ramos handed him a chance in front of an unguarded net, this night could have been far more damaging for the Spaniards.
This is not to say that Bayern are an invincible juggernaut that should be waiting to hoist the European Cup on home ground. Robben was a notable absentee, and Jerome Boateng rarely looked comfortable in the back. If not for Neuer's astute positioning and gift for making difficult saves look easy, we might have had a different game.
Simply put, Robben has to show up and stop flopping at Madrid. Bastian Schweinsteiger has to be able to play the full 90 minutes and they must get the same end-to-end game from Kroos. Mourinho will surely be looking at the tape and will have a response at the Santiago Bernabeu to say the least.
Both teams will also have to hope they continue to see charitable refereeing. Howard Webb had a poor game, allowing far too many theatrics and too many rough challenges. Case in point: Marcelo could and should have been sent off late in the game for an ugly tackle, followed up by a hand in Boateng's face. Equally as bad, Ribery should have been booked early for a laughable dive in the first half against Sergio Ramos.
The one man who got things right tonight? Jupp Heynckes. The Bayern manager tactically outwitted the so-called Special One, and set Bayern Munich one step closer to a dream final at Allianz Arena in May.