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Crowd-pleasing gala

Masterful display by champions-elect

The Allianz Arena media centre foyer is decorated with large wall placards listing Bayern’s honours by competition and year. The DFB Cup roll of honour already shows the year 2008, and it would hardly have come as a surprise if general manager Uli Hoeneß had not personally updated the “German championship” placard on Sunday evening.

”I'll accept congratulations on the championship now, it's not realistically possible to knock us off top spot any more,” Hoeneß stated after Bayern’s emphatic 4-1 victory over outgoing champions VfB Stuttgart. With four games left, Munich are 12 points clear of Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen, and boast a vastly superior goal difference to boot. “Nothing can really go wrong now unless they decide to abandon the championship,” agreed coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Veh congratulates new champs

”No-one can take it away from us now,” chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge added, although Munich technically still require a point to be mathematically certain. “We’re not there yet. I don’t see the shield,” Mark van Bommel quipped. Bayern would expect to pick up the trophy away to VfL Wolfsburg next Sunday, or failing that at home to Arminia Bielefeld three days later.

Few would dispute Bayern’s right to the league crown this term. Hitzfeld’s men took top spot on the very first matchday and have lost just twice since then, one of the defeats coming in the reverse fixture away to Stuttgart. After watching Munich settle that score, VfB coach Armin Veh congratulated Hitzfeld on the title: “Bayern have the best squad and the best individuals.”

Stunning cameo

It was not that the dethroned champions gave a poor account of themselves at the Allianz Arena. A Bayern line-up showing six changes to the team held by St Petersburg led through Luca Toni’s 21st of term after eight minutes, but Antonio da Silva equalised with a deflected free-kick before the midpoint of the half. Mark van Bommel restored the Reds’ lead ten minutes after the restart.

”I was pleasantly surprised by our team, as I feared VfB would be stronger in the second half, but in fact we got better and better,” commented Rummenigge. That was partly due to the introduction of gifted duo Zé Roberto and Franck Ribéry on the hour. Ribéry struck a world-class brace on 75 and 76 minutes to send the Allianz Arena into raptures.

Party atmosphere at home

”Once Ribéry came on, the show really started,” enthused Rummenigge, “it was great entertainment for the folk at the stadium.” Indeed, it was the magical but elusive blend of attractive and successful football which has long been the holy grail in Munich. “I’m continually delighted at what we’re offering the crowd. It’s been a real festival every time at the Allianz Arena recently,” agreed Hoeneß, as the board’s decision to invest heavily in this season’s team was once again vindicated.

“All the board wants is to send people home happy,” Hoeneß continued, “what we’ve had here in the last few weeks has been the icing on the cake. People are really thrilled. We’ve never before had standing ovations for goals and substitutions. It’s what we want and we’re on the right track.”

Fired up for St. Petersburg

Winning the cup and league double means Bayern have hit their domestic targets, but there is still the matter of Europe. Hitzfeld and his men travel to St. Petersburg on Thursday looking for a place in the UEFA Cup Final, after the first leg ended in a 1-1 draw, one reason the players chose to defer any celebration of the league title. “It’s not a promising position at the moment,” warned Hoeneß, although he remains optimistic. “The dressing room morale is intact, and that can move mountains.”