Soccer

Bayern deals with tax case ahead of Barcelona semi

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MUNICH (AP)

At a time when Bayern Munich should be thinking about whether Lionel Messi is healthy enough to play, the new German champion has been rocked by a huge distraction before its Champions League semifinal against Barcelona.

Reports over the weekend that the club's president, Uli Hoeness, is under investigation for suspected tax evasion have dominated German headlines, nearly overshadowing the highly anticipated match.

The newsmagazine Focus - whose publisher is a member of Bayern's board and who attends nearly every match - reported over the weekend that Hoeness is under investigation.

Hoeness, who owns a sausage factory, told the magazine he had reported himself to tax authorities about a private bank account in Switzerland, a move that could mitigate his situation. Few details have come out, but Hoeness' reputation seems to have been tarnished immediately.

The club has sought to play down the reports and officials insist the case has no impact on the team's run-up to Tuesday match. Club spokesman Markus Hoerwick said before Monday's news conference that no questions about Hoeness' situation would be accepted.

''That's, above all, a private matter of the president ... my team does not get affected by anything,'' Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said after his team won 6-1 in Hannover on Saturday.

Heynckes is supervising an extraordinary season before he hands over to Pep Guardiola - the former Barcelona coach.

Bayern had been free of disturbances this season and has a lot to show for it.

It became the earliest champion in Bundesliga history, already has the most victories in a season (26), has lost only once in the league, and has also rached the German Cup final.

Barcelona arrives in Munich on Monday with Messi in the squad but still not cleared by doctors to play.

''Clearly, Barcelona is stronger when Messi plays,'' Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said. ''But we have players who can hurt Barcelona.''

Messi injured his right hamstring on April 2. He has since missed three Spanish league games, while going on as a substitute to help rally Barcelona past Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals two weeks ago.

Messi changed the flow of that game, demonstrating once again how much he matters to Barcelona's game. The four-time FIFA player of the year is likely to make the difference over the two legs - if he is healthy to play.

Heynckes has described Messi as a ''phenomenon'' and ''extraterrestrial.''

''But Barcelona is more than Messi, they have so many great players,'' Heynckes said. ''Barcelona has dominated European football in the past few years but I have concept how to play and I am confident we can succeed.''

Without Messi, Barcelona looks vulnerable. It labored to a 1-0 win over Levante in the Spanish league on Saturday. Bayern won 6-1 in Hannover using a reshuffled lineup, its 13th consecutive victory in the Bundesliga.

Bayern will be without striker Mario Mandzukic, but his backup Mario Gomez has scored five goals this week - two in Hannover and three in the 6-1 win over Wolfsburg in the German Cup semifinals. Gomez was last season's second-best scorer in the Champions League but has been pushed out by Mandzukic.

Heynckes has not ruled out using veteran Claudio Pizarro - either with or instead of Gomez.

''I have the fortune that I have two more great strikers. Gomez has been the best German-born striker for the past few years and Claudio is the best foreign striker of the Bundesliga,'' Heynckes said.

Pizarro can play as an attacking midfielder as well.

Long-term injuries have ruled out Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber but Bayern has been impressive no matter who plays.

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has to patch up his defense with both Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano out injured.

His options include shifting Adriano over to the center of the defense, using young defender Marc Bartra, or even turning to veteran Eric Abidal after he played well through 90-plus minutes of Saturday's game in his first start since undergoing a liver transplant last year.

Bayern and Barcelona are both seeking their fifth Champions League title. Bayern is in its third semifinal in four seasons, Barcelona is in the last four for a record sixth consecutive appearance.

While Bayern has lost its most recent two finals, including a heartbreaking defeat at home last season to Chelsea on penalties, Barcelona won the title in 2009 and 2011 under Guardiola.

Bayern has lost only once at home to Spanish opposition in 20 matches and eliminated Real Madrid at this stage last season.

''(Bayern) is a very strong rival. It is having an extraordinary season. But we are a competitive team and we'll see what happens,'' Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura said.

Barcelona was a 5-1 aggregate winner in the 2008-09 quarterfinals, with the Munich leg ending in a 1-1 draw. Messi had two goals at home.

 



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