Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Bayern ready for Madrid test
Bayern Munich's star names believe they have shattered the aura of invincibility that surrounded Real Madrid prior to their Champions League semi-final first leg in Munich and now they are targeting a defining victory in the Spanish capital.
Bayern's 2-1 advantage may only be slender as they prepare to enter the cauldron of a buzzing Santiago Bernabeu arena on Wednesday night, yet match-winner Mario Gomez believes his last-gasp strike in the first game at the Allianz Arena may prove to be the decisive moment of the tie.
"Momentum is a big factor in football and this is why I believe our late winner has really boosted us," the Germany striker, whose goal made up for a host of missed opportunities, says.
"I'm sure Real Madrid would have been delighted with a draw and maybe some of the wind has been taken from them now. More importantly, we proved we could match them in all areas and for a lot of the game we were superior, which allowed us to come away from the game with only positive thoughts in our mind.
"Of course, we cannot take anything for granted as Real are still a magnificent team and have some of the finest players in the world. They will be itching to bounce back, so we will need to be strong mentally and physically. The second-leg is going to be a full-blooded affair as there is so much at stake."
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm believes nothing less than a victory would have done for Bayern in the first meeting with Real Madrid, as he suggests the fear factor was stripped from Jose Mourinho's men when they were pushed onto the ropes at the Allianz Arena.
"We delivered when we had to and proved Real look a lot less frightening when they are on the back foot," the Germany captain says. "With a little more luck with our finishing, we could have won with more of a cushion. Unfortunately it was not to be, but at least we have our noses in front and that makes us more confident.
"Our victory was fully deserved. We missed some scoring chances but continued to persevere and found a late winner that was essential for us. A draw was not enough, as you need something to fall back on when you are playing in an intimidating arena like the Bernabeu.
"I feel we wanted more and believed in ourselves right to the end. This fighting spirit, together with our passion and togetherness, was there for all to see throughout the match. More of the same will be needed in Madrid."
Lahm suggests his side will only prevail if they retain their positive approach in the second leg at the Bernabeu, as he suspects Madrid can be vulnerable when they are forced to throw their punches from an unfamiliar back-foot stance.
"Real are set up to dominate weaker sides - they are used to rolling over teams who are intimidated and pull everyone back and hope for the best," Lahm says. "We cannot make the mistake of sitting back on our lead and hoping to survive because it will not work for us.
"We wanted to take the game to them, to take the initiative and this approach worked out well. It will not be so easy at the Bernabeu, but we have to try and do that again. For me, Real and Barca are the strongest in Europe at the moment. Both are individually and collectively excellent. However, we fancy our chances against any opponent as, on our day, we are a match for anyone.
"Bayern Munich is a big name in European football, just like Real and Barca, but this game at the Bernabeu will be a massive test. The atmosphere will be boiling over and they will be looking to turn the tables as quickly as possible. One thing for sure is we will not be shutting up shop and playing for a draw. That's not our way - it's too risky. I think we'll need to score at least once in Madrid and looking at the big-match goal scorers in our team, we should be confident of doing that."
Gomez supports his skipper's view that Bayern need to attack their rivals once more in the second leg, and is confident of reaching an Allianz Arena final that would mean so much more to all in Munich.
"Ideally we hope to put Real under as much pressure again," Gomez adds. "They know now that Bayern will stand up to them and we also feel that destiny is on our side to get to the final in Munich. Now we have to make it happen.
"It's no bad thing that Real had to play Barcelona at the weekend. Unlike us, they have a championship to fight for, which has to be to our advantage. We need to be confident of going through to this final at the Allianz Arena. It feels as if we are close to the dream now."
The last word goes to Bayern's Arjen Robben, with the ex-Real Madrid winger warning his colleagues that they will need to rise to the challenge in front of passionate supporters who will not even contemplate failure on Wednesday night.
"As I know so well, the Bernabeu is a special place for an occasion like this, but we have the players in our dressing room looking forward to the challenge rather than feeling worried by the idea of taking on Real Madrid," he says. "For me, our strong mentality is the key ingredient we have to our advantage.
"All of us at Bayern appreciate this is a unique opportunity for our fans see us in a Champions League final in our home stadium. This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment and we have given ourselves a big chance to make it happen."
After all the hype building up towards a potential Real Madrid v Barcelona showdown in the Champions League final next month, wins for Bayern and Chelsea in the first legs of the Champions League semi-finals have raised the prospect of a Spanish-free climax to the European club season. No one would have imagined such a scenario a week ago.