Champions League

Bayern Munich, Heynckes show true heart

Jupp Heynckes celebrates after Bayern Munich's victory in the Champions League final.
FOX Soccer.com DERMOT CORRIGAN
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MADRID, SPAIN

SIX SHOOTERS

Check out our special grades from the shootout showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was the hero Wednesday night, as his side knocked out Real Madrid 3-1 in the penalty shootout to qualify for this season’s Champions League final.

But this moment almost never happened. A jubilant Schweinsteiger confessed afterwards that he had almost faltered during his run-up to strike the winning spot kick.

“For a moment I lost my courage but I re-found it just as I hit the ball,” said Schweinsteiger. “I just had in my head the idea that the ball had to go in and I knew it would go in. We are dead-tired, but happy I do not know from where we got the energy to keep running.”

It was a remarkable night for Bayern, which looked lost after going 2-0 down after 14 minutes of play. But the Germans never panicked, and slowly came back into the game to draw level 3-3 on aggregate. Tension then took over in the closing stages before the final nail-biting drama of the penalties saw Madrid miss three of their four kicks and the German side progress.

Aside from Schweinsteiger, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, could also take ‘player of the game’ honors. The German international made key saves against Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká. Unwilling to cast blame, Madrid’s manager Jose Mourinho, did not throw his players under the bus.

“My players have nothing to reproach themselves about,” said Mourinho. “Bayern had more luck than us. We are sad, they are happy and I congratulate them.”

Mourinho added: “All I can say about the penalty misses is that the best tennis players can miss a match point, or Formula 1 drivers make mistakes when there are only a few laps left. We think these players are supermen, but Superman is just a film.”

If it sounds like an echo to some, that’s because it is. Mourinho had noted at the pre-game press conference that he had been unlucky in previous Champions League semifinals, and mentioned the 2007 loss to Liverpool on penalties.

Madrid's fans quickly left the stadium after the result, leaving Bayern's overjoyed 5,000 travelling supporters in full excitement. This had looked to be Real’s year – particularly with Barcelona dropping out the previous night – but Mourinho's men came up short.

Bayern Munich’s Jupp Heynckes - who himself had delivered Madrid’s seventh trophy back in 1998 - hailed the game afterwards as the most exciting of his long career.

“The drama we saw today was the highest possible,” he said. “Throughout my career I have seen many games, but when I think we have qualified to play the final in our own stadium, winning against a team like Madrid with their history, I am so proud of our players and our fans as well.”

EUROPE'S BEST

Check out all the images from Wednesday's UEFA Champions League semifinal.

Nobody inside the stadium had expected penalties to be needed during a whirlwind opening by the home side. With the 85,000 packed at the Santiago Bernabeu, many teams would have folded at that point. Yet, Bayern showed they were made of stern stuff. Arjen Robben's 27th minute penalty evened things up, and Heynckes claimed his side had largely controlled things from then on.

“Madrid were 1-0 up and then 2-0 almost straight away,” said Heynckes. “But my team managed to release the pressure that Madrid had put on us. We improved all the time, the first half in attack and then the second half in every respect.”

Heynckes' tactical decisions were also key, and he showed bravery by replacing Frank Ribéry with the fresher Thomas Müller. Madrid got more desperate as time ticked by, as evidenced by Esteban Granero’s yellow carded for a blatant dive inside the Bayern penalty in extra time. Madrid would never recover.

Xabi Alonso was the only Real Madrid player from his team to score during the shootout. He said afterwards that he and his teammates were devastated but would come back.

“It’s a shame for the dream we have lost. At one point we could almost taste the victor,” said Alonso. “But we are a young group, with motivation, and in a few days we will realize we can come back again next year.”

Dermot Corrigan is a freelance Irish sportswriter who lives in Madrid and writes about soccer for several publications, including FOXSoccer.com, Sport 360°, When Saturday Comes and Iberosphere. Contact him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.

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