Cautious optimism for date at Wembley

Posted by Susie Schaaf

While last week's Champions League fixtures were an unabashed delight to watch if you're a supporter of Bundesliga football, the mood in Germany quickly turned pragmatic. Typically German. With the rest of the footballing world fawning over Bayern Munich's and Borussia Dortmund's lopsided wins over Barcelona and Real Madrid, the somewhat dour collective German psyche was there to remind us that no one had won anything yet.

True story.

The seething cauldron of the Estadio Bernabeu awaited Dortmund, and despite a late scare the Bundesliga side came through to book a place in the final. Now only Barcelona, who will come out guns blazing at Camp Nou, remain to try and correct the popular idea that the Germans currently hold rule over Espana. (Insert political joke here.)

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There is cautious optimism in the Bayern camp, but wary of their second-leg defeat to Arsenal, the boys in red are committed to giving 100 percent. "We want to make the final," said Arjen Robben in a prematch news conference, "and that means playing just as well as we did in the first leg -- not one single percent less!"

Indeed, it went pretty perfectly for Bayern in the Allianz Arena last week, but there is still a cause for pause as Philipp Lahm, Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dante, Luiz Gustavo and Mario Gomez are one booking away from missing the final, should Bayern go through. Matthias Sammer rubbished the worry, however, stating: "It doesn't interest me in the slightest." The director of sport continued that last season's semifinal return at Real Madrid was much worse; with David Alaba, Gustavo and Holger Badstuber eventually missing the final in Munich.

While Bayern pundits have been playing a guessing game as to who the startelf will be, or whether Jupp Heynckes will try to spare players in danger for the final, the coach came out and said: "I won't be making any concessions. I'll select my best available team. The players will have to show great discipline, which means: no gestures, no unnecessary fouls and they mustn't let themselves be provoked. That's the decisive factor."

According to crazy-like-a-fox Franz Beckenbauer, provoking is exactly what Barca is prepared to do. The honorary Bayern Munich president told Bild: "Barcelona will use any trick in the book to throw Bayern off balance. They'll not hesitate to use methods that are against the rules of the game as well as legitimate tricks. They will fight back.

"Barca will not give up. They will give their all to turn things around. They will try to provoke Bayern and use dirty tricks if necessary. Barca will probably try to make it a physical battle in order to disrupt Bayern's game. Bayern must try and avoid a lot of personal duels. There will be plenty of minor fouls."

He would later backtrack on that statement: "I just wanted to say that Barca, like Bayern, and like I did as player and coach, will do all they can during [Wednesday's] game." To which I say, "Come on, Franz! I thought you had some mut."

Slovenian referee Damir Skomina will have the whistle for this one. And it's a good thing, too! His reputation for not putting up with any foolishness bodes well for Bayern's direct style of play. Flops will certainly be unrewarded, while all the fouls missed in the first leg are unlikely to escape notice this time around. German national team fans will remember him from the Greece match last June.

Is it possible for Barcelona to overturn a four-goal deficit? Something that has never been done in Champions League history? Barca president Sandro Rosell seems to think so: "Everything is possible. Even this. People should believe in it." Ex-Barcelona player Rafael Marquez added: "If there's one team capable of scoring five against Bayern, it's Barca. They have the best player in the world."

We get it. Lionel Messi is the greatest player in the world. But a not fully fit Messi is not the greatest player in the world. He is getting closer to fitness, however, as evidenced by his goal against Bilbao in their 2-2 draw over the weekend. Can a little (no, a lot of) Messi magic see them through? Keep in mind that if Bayern score once, Barca would need six goals.

Fitness and suspension issues abound for Barcelona's defense, and have only gotten worse since the opening tie. Sergio Busquets has been held out with a groin injury, meaning Alex Song would replace him if he is unable to start Wednesday; while Jordi Alba's late yellow -- for throwing the ball in Robben's face -- means he'll sit this one out as well.

Bayern Munich's key to this match -- just like the first -- relies on Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez shutting down Xavi and Andres Iniesta, stranding Messi with no one to play him through. Worked pretty well the first time out, eh?

Ninety thousand Catalans will come full force to Nou Camp, and what an atmosphere it will be! But barring an unmitigated disaster, I'll be watching my team -- Bayern Munich -- in Wembley May 25.

Auf gehts, ihr Roten!

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