Sometimes you just have to disappear for a while, clear your head and hope against all hope that it was all just a bad dream. But after rubbing your eyes on more than one occasion and even dunking your head in a basin of freezing cold water, the horrible vision still remains. On the evening of Tuesday 28th March 2015, FC Bayern München had one of those evenings. That’s right. One of those evenings. An evening where not just one or even a couple of marginal decisions went the wrong way, but the sort of evening where everything spun into a confusing and uncontrollable mixture of horror and despair.
Given that I have been watching football for the best part of forty years, that’s saying something.
In front of a capacity 75,000 crowd at the Allianz Arena the atmosphere was buoyant, with the fans in the Südkurve presenting a magnificent banner featuring Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben as “The Real Badman and Robben” – a fantastic sight in itself, but doubly so in that it also gently poked fun at Dortmund’s Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who had made the headlines earlier in the year for donning Batman and Robin masks after scoring in the Revierderby against Schalke 04.
More amazing pre-match choreography at the Allianz Arena, featuring “Badman” Ribéry and Robben
Less than a week after their 6-1 demolition of FC Porto the Bavarians were well up for the challenge, boosted by the return of Medhi Benatia to the centre of the defensive unit. With Arjen Robben also fit again for selection and on the bench, things were surely looking up for Pep Guardiola’s men as they turned their focus on a Dortmund side that had struggled for form and consistency all season.
Benatia joined Jérôme Boateng and the returning Rafinha in a three-man backline, with Xabi Alonso coming in for Bastian Schweinsteiger in the holding role. Skipper Philipp Lahm, Thiago and Juan Bernat all returned after being rested at the weekend against Hertha BSC, joining in-form youngster Mitchell Weiser who retained his place after a fine showing against the Berliners. Up front, ex-BVB man Robert Lewandowski was joined by Thomas Müller.
After a cagey opening quarter of an hour that saw both teams get the measure of each other like sparring boxers, Bayern were the first to settle down. Without ever really flexing their muscle the Bavarians were able to dominate a Dortmund side that looked increasingly timid, and the close passing game perfected under Guardiola was exercised to full effect. The chances soon started to come, with Müller heading wide after working himself into a good position, Lahm warming the gloves of Dortmund’s stand-in ‘keeper Mitchell Langerak and Benatia also heading wide.
Dortmund had not even registered a shot on target when Bayern finally broke the deadlock just before the half-hour mark, as Shinji Kagawa’s loose pass was cut out by Benatia before the Moroccan sent a teasing long ball for the alert Lewandowski. With just the ‘keeper to beat Lewandowski saw his slightly looped effort bounce off the left post with Langerak beaten, but the Pole was just too fast for both the Aussie ‘keeper and defender Sokratis as he calmly slotted the rebound home from the tightest of angles.
Robert Lewandowski steers the ball past Dortmund ‘keeper Mitchell Langerak to give Bayern a deserved lead after twenty-nine minutes
In form and in front, Bayern kept their foot down – but without even really going into overdrive. With Dortmund looking unadventurous and not at all threatening, there was never really any need for the Bavarians to step up another gear. Lewandowski almost caught Langerak out with an cheeky lob a minute before the break, but at half time there was only really one team in it.
The second half started in much the same way as the first had ended, with Dortmund still on the back foot. Langerak did well to deny Müller, but could only watch as another Lewandowski effort sailed over him before pinging painfully off the crossbar after the Pole had collected a lovely pass from the sprightly Bernat. As Müller looked to collect the rebound there was a clear handball from Dortmund left-back Marcel Schmelzer, but as the Bayern players and bench protested referee Peter Gagelmann simply waved play on. It wasn’t a case of accidental handball, or even one of those “ball hitting arm” moments – it was completely blatant.
The men from Munich were looking good for a second goal which would have clearly killed the contest and Thiago was the next player to be denied by Langerak, but as the time continued to tick by there was this constant nagging feeling. As the possession and passing stats totted up and the corners started to accumulate, the crucial statistic remained unchanged, and like in 1999 against Manchester United and 2012 against Chelsea, Bayern could not kill their opponents off. In their garish yellow and black attire Dortmund looked like a bunch of wasps, the sort of creatures that can still be heard buzzing even after you have clouted them half a dozen times with a rolled-up newspaper.
On sixty-eight minutes came the first blow, as Thiago slowly made his way off the pitch after getting a slight knock. It looked like a precautionary measure, but any sense of disappointment in the crowd was quickly allayed by the number that flashed up on the touchline assistant’s board. The number ten. After a month out of action Arjen Robben made his way out onto the pitch to loud cheers from all around the ground. Surely, we were going to see this out now.
At this point, Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp had clearly had enough of his team’s weak approach to the match. Replacing the disappointing Kagawa with Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the command was to at least go down fighting. That unkillable wasp had started to buzz again, and it was clear Klopp’s men were going to give it a go.
Having been relaxed for so long, the sudden change in their opponents approach took Bayern slightly by surprise. Neuer was given his first test of the evening as he calmly caught a Aubameyang header, but could do nothing to prevent the Gabonese international from hooking the ball in from close range fifteen minutes from time. Having also had little work to do the Bayern defenders were caught out completely by Mkhitaryan’s cross into the box, and although Neuer pawed the ball out it was clear that it had gone over the line. from nowhere – and this is not an exaggeration – Dortmund were level and right back in the contest.
Manuel Neuer desperately tries to claw the ball away, but it is over the line and Dortmund are level
Just before the Dortmund goal Bastian Schweinsteiger had been preparing to come on, surely to help shore things up and see the game out. However, seeing him come on for the effective Thomas Müller just moments after Dortmund had levelled the scores was rather bizarre. Surely the right thing would have been to keep Müller out on the pitch, and I suddenly had visions of 2012.
Like the majority of the 75,000 crowd the Bayern players had been caught completely cold, like a confident boxer taking a sudden and unexpected blow to the solar plexus. The buzzing wasps could smell Bavarian blood now, and Klopp’s team threatened to turn the game on its head completely in a furious ten-minute spell. Having spent most of the match with little more to do than twiddle his thumbs, Neuer found himself having to produce not one but two world class saves. The first from a Mkhitaryan effort was stunning enough, but the dive low to his left to deny the hitherto quiet Marco Reus was right out of the top drawer.
In hindsight, it might have been better for all concerned had Reus managed to get a little more power on his shot and finished it there and then, for the tale of horror would only get worse. Just over a quarter of an hour after making his welcome return Robben pulled up suddenly, the pain in his face – emotional as well as physical – was there for all to see. He tried manfully to get back up and continue, but had no choice but to bow to the inevitable as he made way for Mario Götze, who was suddenly thrown into the bear pit with less than five minutes remaining.
A fifteen minute comeback, and it’s all over for the season. A clearly upset Arjen Robben walks off the pitch
With Dortmund satisfied to see things out to the end of the ninety minutes, it was a case of starting all over again for the thirty gruelling minutes of extra time. Nobody wanted to be out there, and the majority of the Bayern supporters in the ground must have been wondering why they weren’t already on the walk back to the U-Bahn station at Fröttmaning. With Dortmund looking to sit out for a penalty shootout Bayern again created the better chances, Benatia first heading wide before Schweinsteiger sent a header over the target with the goal at his mercy. As Schweini held his head in his hands, we all were too. The veteran midfielder came even closer just moments later, as he saw a second header kept out by Langerak’s outstretched left leg. Pure agony.
Dortmund were rocked when Slovenian substitute Kevin Kampl received a second yellow card for a foul on the busy Schweinsteiger three minutes into the second period of extra time, and with Klopp’s men now left with no real choice but to hold out for a penalty shootout they simply parked the bus. With ten minutes to go, thoughts turned to what looked like the inevitable Elfmeterschießen, something that was scarcely fathomable just an hour earlier.
With Müller and Thiago – two of the five successful takers in the quarter-final against Leverkusen – already off the pitch, it is fair to say that Bayern really didn’t want to go the distance. So they kept plugging away looking for the winner.
Right at the death there was even more drama, as Lewandowski was brutally clattered in the box by Langerak. The ‘keeper could argue that he was going for the ball, but nothing could justify the force he used – and the crafty smirks exchanged with handball criminal Schmelzer while the Pole was flat out on the ground. A groggy Lewandowski was able to get back onto his feet, but was clearly not fit to play on, let alone take part in a penalty shootout. What happened afterwards was even worse: having been taken to hospital for a check-up, the Bayern number nine was diagnosed with concussion as well as a broken nose and upper jaw.
A groggy looking Lewandowski is helped off the pitch two minutes before the end of extra time
Having dominated the game, Bayern were now left facing the penalty lottery. Two solid penalty appeals turned down, one of which the referee would apologise afterwards for not awarding. Three injuries to key players, one season-ending. Even the world’s most imaginative movie scriptwriter couldn’t even make it up. Then, as if to round this macabre horror story off perfectly, this was then followed by the most bizarre penalty shootout one is ever likely to see.
It all began normally enough, with Lahm stepping up to take Bayern first kick. After some delaying tactics from Langerak, the Bayern skipper ran in confidently, only to slip badly at the point of impact. As Lahm landed flat on his backside, the ball flew harmlessly into the crowd. İlkay Gündoğan lashed his kick high to Neuer’s left to give Dortmund the lead, and when Xabi Alonso took Bayern’s second penalty, it was like watching Groundhog Day. The same slip, the same result. Even if this moment was rehearsed they’d have taken half a dozen takes to get it right. Meanwhile, I was struggling to left my jaw off the ground.
Veteran Sebastian Kehl drilled home Dortmund’s second kick to double the visitors’ advantage in the shootout, and in what for Dortmund fans must have been a season-defining moment a nervous Mario Götze saw his shot kept out by Langerak. It was a good save from the Aussie ‘keeper, but having seen the first two slip ups it was clear that Götze was unable to solely focus on hitting the back of the net. An awful effort from Mats Hummels – and a neat save from Neuer – kept Bayern’s hopes hanging by the thinnest thread, and the Bayern ‘keeper himself stepped up to take the fourth kick. Electing for power rather than placement, Neuer spared nothing as he smashed the ball from the spot – only to see it crash against the crossbar.
The drama comes to an end, as Neuer sees his penalty crash off he the crossbar
The defeat of course ended Bayern’s dream of winning a second treble, and puts into perspective just how hard it is to achieve. In recent years many Bayern fans have taken things for granted – particularly against domestic opposition – but the fact is that to scale these height a team needs to play more than fifty games, with most of them closely packed into April and May. That Bayern were able to take things this far with a severely depleted squad says plenty about the team. Yes, we are disappointed. But we can also be proud of the team, and even after this bitter blow there is still plenty to fight for – including a Champions’ League semi-final against Barcelona. Kopf hoch, Jungs!
Man of the Match
Up to the hour mark, there were plenty of candidates. Müller, Lewandowski, Bernat and Weiser to name just four. But for his keeping Bayern in the match with two world-class saves in the Dortmund’s most dangerous spell of the match, Manuel Neuer gets the plaudits. He also made one save in the shootout and be forgiven for his miss – that is not what he is there for, after all.
DFB Pokal, Semi-Final
Allianz Arena, München, 28.04.2015
FC Bayern 0:2 PSO (1:0, 1:1, 1:1) Borussia Dortmund
Lewandowski 29. / Aubameyang 75.
Penalties: Lahm MISSED, Gündoğan 0-1, Alonso MISSED, Kehl 0-2, Götze SAVED, Hummels SAVED, Neuer MISSED
FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Boateng, Benatia, Bernat – Alonso – Lahm (c), Thiago (68. Robben 68, 84. Götze) – Müller (76. Schweinsteiger), Weiser – Lewandowski
Dortmund: Langerak – Durm, Sokratis, Hummels (c), Schmelzer – Gündoğan, Bender (91. Kehl) – Blaszczykowski (83. Kampl), Kagawa (70. Mkhitaryan 70), Reus – Aubameyang
Yellow Cards: Rafinha, Alonso, Benatia / Kampl (2), Sokratis, Langerak
Red Cards: Kampl