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Soccer Champions League

After Tense Penalty Shoot-Out Bayern Munich Must Be Champions League Favorites

Watching the Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid was a bizarre experience.

The match had everything. As described by some overzealous purists it was a first half of liquid soccer. Passes were pushed into space where a flying attacker would materialize. Cristiano Ronaldo was afforded the miniscule gap from which he could spring forth. On Bayern’s side it was Arjen Robben who was scuttling across the turf, drawing men and taking a ball from David Alaba to lay off for Mario Gomez falling back into the hole.

Both sides looked threatening and after half an hour there had been a penalty scored and a point blank finish for Ronaldo to slot, while Bayern saw one penalty squeezed in by Robben. 2-1.

It stayed like this for the rest of the game. Gaps did appear, but the adventure and dynamism of that first half dissipated. The second half was one which was more about collecting cards and bumping players off the ball. Extra time looked inevitable because there appeared to be a lack of game plans by either side.

With the aggregate scores level at 3-3 and both sides having one away goal it was extra time. Again the ball was pumped back and forth, but no opportunity presented itself. Gomez perhaps could have worked the goalkeeper when a ball flashed from his boot, but he snatched at it and Real cleared.

Jose Mourinho’s side could perhaps be said to be glad that extra time finished without a winner falling to their Bavarian opponents. They had triumphed at the weekend in a taxing Clasico victory over Barcelona to all but ensure they would win La Liga and in the second half they looked drained. Bayern did not.

So it fell to penalties. Despite what is said, a shoot-out is no lottery. It is about holding nerve.

What will be remembered about this game is that four penalties were saved –two pawed away by the impressive Manuel Neuer and two easily palmed by Iker Casillas –and one was blasted into the stands by Real’s Sergio Ramos.

It was all left to Bastian Schweinsteiger. The busy midfielder took no time and calmly hammered the ball into the middle of the net. Bayern had triumphed and they had secured a rare home tie in the Champions League Final in May.

Much will be made of the fact that Ronaldo and Kaka hit two near identical, limp penalties easily picked off by German national keeper Neuer. Ronaldo, in particular, shall be singled out as the ridiculous notion of “he never performs in the big games” lives on for at least another season. For Neuer, he is proving himself world class.

So it is decided. Chelsea will face Bayern in the Champions League 2012 Final. There will be no Ramires, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic or Raul Meireles for Chelsea and no David Alaba, Holger Badstuber or Luiz Gustavo for Bayern. Perhaps the booking system needs reviewed as so many stars miss out. However, it is also patently clear that despite Bayern’s losses and despite where the game is played, they are favorites.