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Victory in Belgrade

Munich set course for knockout round

Long after the final whistle at the Crvena Zvezda stadium in Belgrade, the 800 travelling Bayern fans continued to sing songs of jubilation and praise to their heroes. Thanks to what Ottmar Hitzfeld described as “a triumph based on desire”, a severely weakened Munich side registered a 3-2 win against Red Star Belgrade in a perfect start to their UEFA Cup group phase campaign.

“We’d have been happy enough with a draw, but now we’re obviously delighted,” general manager Uli Hoeneß declared at the final whistle. The victory had put Bayern in a “great position,” the board director continued. “We need to win our home games, and then we’re home and dry. That’s tremendous.”

Escape from the jaws of defeat

“It was a real fight out there tonight,” Hoeneß reflected, and no-one in the Bayern camp was denying that the result owed much to good fortune. In a hostile atmosphere created by the 40,000 or so home fans and with a severely weakened line-up, Bayern were twice forced to come from behind against technically limited but agile and aggressive opponents, before ultimately staving off a first competitive defeat since April.

“That’s the closest we’ve come to losing this season. By the end, I’d have been happy enough with a point,” Hitzfeld acknowledged after sub Toni Kroos silenced the Marakana crowd with the winner from a stoppage-time free kick. Miroslav Klose marked his European debut in a Bayern jersey with equalisers on 20 and 85 minutes, cancelling out goals from Ognjen Koroman (16) and Nenad Milijas (74).

Abominable playing surface

“I want to praise the team for the way we kept coming back at them. It’s a mark of our quality,” observed Miroslav Klose. “We had to go to the limit, although obviously, it was a lucky win.” The striker’s brace earned him the unofficial man of the match plaudits alongside the outstanding Lucio, described by Hoeneß as “world class, grade one with distinction.”

The Bayern camp was also in agreement over the borderline state of the playing surface. “The pitch was a catastrophe,” chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge complained. Hoeneß felt the game had been reduced to “a lottery“, while Hitzfeld was simply happy it was all over: “I’m just pleased we’ve basically come out of it in good shape. It wasn’t a day for the pretty stuff, all that mattered was battling away.“

Well-placed to win group

“We all knew it wouldn’t be a pleasing spectacle. And it’s definitely not beneath our dignity to acknowledge that we enjoyed the rub of the green,” Rummenigge summarised in his address to the traditional post-match banquet at the team hotel in the early hours of Friday morning. However, the chairman added an admonishing word or two: “We’d have been very angry with ourselves if we’d lost today, but as it is, we have every chance of winning the group.“

The songs and chants of the Bayern faithful were still echoing around the empty ground as the senior figures turned their attention to the future, insisting there could be no let-up in the club’s efforts now. “We’re all delighted and happy that we’ve won, but we can do better than today’s display,” Rummenigge urged, looking ahead to Sunday’s Bundesliga trip to Borussia Dortmund: “We need to improve, both as individuals and as a team.“