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‘Fantastic character’

Record-breaking Bayern withstand Moscow trial

The players disappeared to their rooms very quickly after the midnight banquet, exhausted from the cold and 90 punishing minutes. But Pep Guardiola remained behind, talking animatedly with Uli Hoeneß, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Matthias Sammer over a couple of glasses of red wine. And they raised a toast: first, to a 3-1 victory away to CSKA Moscow, a fifth victory in five Champions League matches this term. And second, to the latest in a series of astonishing records: FCB have won their last ten games in Europe’s elite club competition. “Many congratulations,” Rummenigge declared in his speech to the banquet, “we’ve overtaken Barcelona and have the record all to ourselves. Fantastic!”

Bayern really appear unstoppable at the moment. The Reds refuse to be knocked off course, neither by a lengthy injury list nor an incredibly demanding match schedule. A less than smooth-running away trip to Russia made no difference to the outcome either. “This match has again showed what fantastic character we have in the team,” Guardiola said admiringly, praising his troops for another rugged display. True, in the icy cold of the Khimki Arena there had been a couple of “careless lapses,” noted Thomas Müller, but the victory earned by goals from Arjen Robben (17), Mario Götze (58) and Müller (65, pen) was undoubtedly merited.

Atrocious playing conditions

It was in many ways a remarkable performance, especially given the inevitable loss of positive tension following the showdown in Dortmund last Saturday, and the fact Bayern travelled to Moscow already certain of a place in the Round of 16. Last but by no means least, the conditions underfoot bordered on the atrocious, “so it wasn’t easy,” Rummenigge acknowledged. Guardiola agreed: “The pitch was very slippery, it was dangerous and difficult.“

Goalscorer Götze described the big freeze as “hardly thrilling.” Manuel Neuer, who showed all his trademark class to thwart the home team in a number of dangerous situations, said he would like to have played as an outfield player for at least a couple of minutes just to warm himself up. Man of the Match Robben was very unimpressed with the pitch: “You could pass, but not really dribble. The ball was almost impossible to control.“ In the circumstances, the Dutch ace felt the team performance deserved real respect. “We switched focus really well after the game in Dortmund.“

Youngster Green lives the dream

Unfortunately, captain Philipp Lahm fell victim to the conditions and had to be substituted after half an hour with a hamstring problem. A medical in Munich on Thursday confirmed the player will be out of action for at least a week. The club’s injury roster thus gains a new name, and it was a long list to start with. “Rotation is barely possible for now,” remarked Robben.

That means a chance for one or two of the club’s most talented youngsters, starting with 18-year-old Julian Green, who came on for his professional debut shortly before the end in Moscow. “It’s a dream and I’m unbelievably happy,” the German-American starlet said afterwards. “I gave it everything I had in those few short minutes. I think it was okay. Making the trip has really paid off for me.”

Braunschweig up next

Green might yet find himself in the pro squad again for Saturday’s meeting with Eintracht Braunschweig, although no decision has been taken yet. The only certainty is that the German champions face a potentially torrid afternoon. “First against last is always a strange business,” mused Robben, recalling not infrequent occurrences in his career when  an unfancied David has defied the odds and slain mighty Goliath.

The Dutchman issued the appropriate warning: “We have to watch ourselves and keep up the good work.” But the supporters and fans can be absolutely sure FCB will not underestimate the promoted club. The men from Munich take every game deadly seriously, as they proved yet again in Moscow.