Barca prove too much for Bayern, advance to Champions League final

Barcelona completed the job in Munich, eliminating Bayern Munich 5-3 on aggregate despite suffering a 3-2 loss in Germany to become this season’s first UEFA Champions League finalist on Tuesday night. Two first-half goals from Neymar put Barcelona on easy street early, and despite a prideful Munich being able to put three goals up on the scoreboard by the full-time whistle, in truth the game was well out of reach by the end of the first half.

Barcelona now await the winner of Wednesday’s Real Madrid-Juventus clash ahead of their June date in Berlin, while Bayern manager Josep Guardiola will now face renewed questions about his future with the club. For the second straight season, his Bayern side has been bundled out of the Champions League at this very stage by Spanish opposition.

"This year is great in all senses, we are in a final and it’s within our reach," Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta told reporters after his side’s aggregate win. "We are where we wanted to be but won’t just be happy with that, we want to win titles."

Odd as it may sound given that there are two scheduled games remaining in Spain, this match also may prove to be the last for Barcelona before that final. Due to a dispute over TV rights, league games in Spain are currently on lockdown, with the Spanish FA suspending play and the players joining on strike. A judge is expected to rule on the legality of the strike on Wednesday.

In truth, the task was always going to be hard for Bayern, down 3-0 after a blitzing first leg that saw Lionel Messi score twice inside four minutes and Neymar add in a stoppage-time capper. Bayern have been decimated by injuries — they again were without talismanic stars Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery — and were forced to field the same side that had been on the receiving end of last-week’s beatdown.

And yet, Bayern were able to get off to a dream start, with the unlikely hero being Mehdi Benatia. Off a corner kick, Benatia was left wholly unmarked, and headed home to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It was dreadful defending from Barcelona, but it quickly became apparent why their defending — or lack thereof — really would not be an issue.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL

Just eight minutes later, and with what was one of his first touches in the game, Messi sent a perfectly weighted pass through Rafinha and Jerome Boateng to find Luis Suarez on the break. Suarez, in turn, squared the ball to Neymar, who had a tap-in with Manuel Neuer completely taken out of the play. The goal silenced the Allianz Arena and provided a foreshadowing of what was yet to come.

Despite playing one of the best possession games in world sport, Barcelona realized that all they had to do was kick it long down the middle. And, so they did. Dani Alves chipped over the back to set up an attempt for Suarez, which he kneed on to beat Rafinha, then squared for Neymar to chest the ball down, and volley home near post to beat both Neuer and Boateng. Time and time again, Barcelona were able to exploit a very shabby three-man backline, with passes that should have been stopped at the halfway line making their way right up to Neuer’s doorstop.

Bayern, however, did have two fine chances that showed a glimmer of what might have been. Robert Lewandowski was the architect of both, the first a manufactured toe-poke off service from Thiago Alcantara that lacked power, but still forced ter Stegen to dive and save. The second chance come on the 40th minute, when Lewandowski got the ball past ter Stegen and on the line — only to see the keeper reach in and sweep it away. Goal-line technology is not used in the Champions League, but replays showed that the referees appeared to make the right call in declining to award the goal.

After the break, Barcelona noticeably slowed down the game, playing more to avoid injury and suspensions than anything else. That plan got a bit of a jolt on the hour mark when Lewandowski finally found the back of the net with a fine bit of skill. Squaring up Javier Mascherano, the Polish striker rolled the ball left to right and then swept in a fine ball to the near post that gave ter Stegen no chance.

Thomas Muller would give Munich the lead again with 15 minutes to play when Bastian Schweinsteiger was able to lay the ball off to him atop the box, setting up a clinical finish against a jaded-looking Barcelona backline.

That set up a frantic finish, with Lewandowski and Muller leading a desperate attempt to find three more goals in the final ten minutes. Clearly rattled by the pressure, Barcelona dropped deeper and deeper in an effort to deny Lewandowski space and time. Yet in the end, the gap was simply too much for the Germans to close.

"We’ve made two mistakes in defence and been wasteful ourselves," a disappointed Thomas Muller told the Champions League website after his side’s defeat. "That’s very annoying."