Sun, 19 May 2024
The Daily Ittefaq

Champions League: Real Madrid stun Bayern to reach BVB final

Update : 09 May 2024, 10:19

For a while, it seemed like Bayern Munich had saved themselves. Then it looked like the referee had done the job. Then, finally, the VAR. In the end though the muscle memory, and relentless pressure of the Champions League’s most successful club meant no one could now save their season.

Two late goals from Real Madrid substitute Joselu, the second subject to that injury time VAR check, turned the tie around after Alphonso Davies had given Bayern a second half lead. When Nacho’s deflected strike was ruled out shortly afterwards, Bayern looked to be booking an all-German final for the first time since 2013. But it wasn’t to be. 

First, Manuel Neuer, who had pulled off a series of spectacular saves throughout the game, spilled a shot from Vinicius Junior, and Joselu tapped home from close range. Then the journeyman forward, born in Stuttgart, Germany, finished from Antonio Rüdiger’s cross and was ruled onside by the VAR. Bayern thought they may have had an equalizer even deeper into injury time but Mathijs de Ligt’s strike was controversially ruled out, with officials later admitting to errors in the decision, according to Bayern players and staff.  

Painful loss in painful season

"It hurts," said Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel of the result. "It’ll take a while to recover but it’s a loss where we left it all out on the pitch. Of course, it’s still tough to accept but it’s reality. No regrets."

While there may have been no regrets in the Spanish capital, the 2023-24 season has been full of them, as Bayern have burnt through two coaches and a series of off-field dramas. Bayern and Tuchel have two remaining Bundesliga games to play, with only the scale of their underachievement in the league to be determined. They will play in the Champions League next year but could still finish as low as fourth in Germany, have already lost the title, and will go without a trophy for the first time since 2012. 

"I’m proud of the fight we showed today because it’s not easy to play here, but in the end we will win nothing, so it’s not really Bayern Munich," de Ligt told DAZN after the match. "I’m really disappointed with this season, so hopefully next season we can do better."

Like Borussia Dortmund the night before, Bayern had little choice but to stake their season on the Champions League. Unlike the side they beat in the 2013 final, also at Wembley, they came up short. 

No longer best of the Bundesliga

While the 2013 final was a clash of two clubs at the peak of the powers, this would have been something different: a triumph of hope, novelty, moments of class and a decent chunk of fortune. Neither side can claim to be the best side in Germany, with Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten season inarguable, let alone Europe. But a Champions League win can paper over even the biggest cracks.

Wednesday’s semifinal loss means the cracks that have shown in losses to Heidenhiem, Bochum, Werder Bremen and Saarbrücken will need to be addressed properly.  

With CEO Oliver Kahn and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic sacked at the end of last season, new sporting director Max Eberl only beginning his work in March and with Tuchel already on his way out the door, the coaching question appears the obvious place to start.

New coach search a struggle

But the deposed German champions are having little luck there either. Julian Nagelsmann, Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso and Austria boss Ralf Rangnick have all spurned advances, leaving Bayern with few places to turn. To rub salt in the wound, Real coach Carlo Ancelotti was sacked early in his second season at Bayern in 2017-18 despite having won the title the season before. He is now on course for fifth Champions League title while another former Bayern man, Real’s midfield metronome Toni Kroos, could win a sixth.

"We were clearly the better team over 90 minutes today," Kroos said, reacting to Bayern’s frustrations at the late decisions before cranking up the pressure on Dortmund. "A Champions League final is something Dortmund haven't played in that often. It's a completely different atmosphere. Wembley. There are a few other feelings that come over you."

For the last decade or so, Bayern have had the most luxurious of problems: they needed to win in Europe and in Germany to feel truly successful. On Wednesday, just Europe would’ve sufficed. Instead, they must watch as Dortmund get that chance on June 1. 

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