Bayern secures spot in knockout stage
PLZEN, Czech Republic (AP)
Reigning champion Bayern Munich stormed into the knockout stage of the Champions League with a 1-0 victory at Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday.
Substitute Mario Mandzukic rose in the area in the 65th minute, just six minutes after coming off the bench to meet a Philipp Lahm cross and head home the winner.
Bayern made it four wins from four games for a brilliant start to the European season under new coach Pep Guardiola. It tops Group D with 12 points, three points ahead of Manchester City who has also qualified for the round of 16.
''It shows how strong a team we have,'' Guardiola said, adding his team's performance will get even better. ''We have a new coach, new players. We need time before we stabilize our game.''
It was Bayern's ninth consecutive win in the Champions League over two seasons, equaling Barcelona's record from the 2002-03 season.
''Every coach would have to be happy about that and I'm not an exception,'' Guardiola said through a translator. ''I hope it is a boost for us and we will be able to improve that record at CSKA Moscow.''
Plzen slipped to a fourth straight loss and is out of contention.
It was a less one-sided match than in Munich two weeks ago when Bayern outgunned Plzen with 35 shots on goal to none by the Czech champion for a humiliating 5-0 victory.
It also beat CSKA Moscow 3-0 and won at Manchester City 3-1 in the previous games.
Bayern started with Thomas Mueller as a lone striker while attacking winger Arjen Robben nurses a groin injury, but Mueller rarely posed a threat and was substituted by Mandzukic.
Bayern was the more dominant side but was unable to find the back of the net for more than an hour despite creating ample chances throughout.
Franck Ribery who scored twice against Plzen in Munich and Mario Goetze who was in the starting lineup both failed to beat goalkeeper Matus Kozacik one-on-one in the second half.
Four minutes into the second half, Lahm fired a low shot that beat the `keeper but defender Marian Cisovsky cleared on the goal line.
Bastian Schweinsteiger's low strike bounced off the post in the 16th minute, while David Alaba's a curling free kick forced Kozacik to a diving save in the 10th minute and Alaba tested the goalkeeper again two minutes later with a long-range drive.
Ribery collected the ball on his own half in the 27th before releasing Lahm, and Kozacik had to race off his line to save.
In his brightest moment, Mueller left behind his marker before feeding Toni Kroos for a dangerous low drive in the 35th.
''It was more difficult than two weeks ago,'' Guardiola said. ''But that's normal, Champions League matches are always tough.''
Plzen presented a more attacking display in front of the cheering home crowd than in Munich and had few decent chances. Forward Milan Petrzela just missed the target 10 minutes before the break on a solo effort and seconds later Pavel Horvath crossed for Daniel Kolar to head over the crossbar from close range.
Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had to dive low to save a dangerous drive by Stanislav Tecl in the 76th minute in a chance to equalize.
''I'm glad we showed our real face,'' Plzen coach Pavel Vrba said. His side will compete with CSKA Moscow over the third spot in the group and a spot in the Europa League.