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Initial goal accomplished

Desire and determination see Bayern home

After only four of six group stage fixtures, Bayern have hit their initial Champions League target this term by becoming the first club along with Manchester City to book a berth in the last sixteen. “I want to warmly congratulate the team and the coaching staff,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in his speech to the traditional post-match banquet. Uli Hoeneß was equally delighted: “We’re the only club with 12 points from four matches. In and of itself that’s fantastic.“

Bayern’s best-ever record after four group stage matches, with the maximum 12 points, 12 goals scored and only one conceded, slightly masks a laboured performance away to Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday night. “It wasn’t exactly our best game, which is why it was tight,” reasoned Thomas Müller. “But we don’t need to be overly negative. Nine consecutive victories just shows how consistent we are as a team.”

Tuesday’s result means FCB have drawn level with record holders Barcelona, who won nine straight games in Europe in 2002/3, but the victory over the Czech champions involved a great deal of hard work. The men from Munich soon established territorial dominance and Bastian Schweinsteiger hit a post in the 16th minute, but the visitors were denied an early opening goal and the home side put up a determined and resourceful show of resistance, demonstrating just why Rummenigge had called for “respect for our opponents” prior to kick-off.

Match-winner Mandzukic

“Every Champions League match is dangerous,” Pep Guardiola had said beforehand, eerily aware of the tough task awaiting his men in front of the boisterous Czech crowd. “Plzen are a very, very good team,” the coach remarked, and the home side were men transformed compared to the limp outfit who succumbed 5-0 in the reverse fixture at the Allianz Arena less than two weeks ago. Viktoria created several first-half chances, including a Kolar header just over the bar in the 37th minute.

But that served as a wake-up call to the holders, who breezily began creating chances after half-time, with Lahm (49), Ribéry (52) and Van Buyten (56) all going close. By the end, Bayern had delivered 22 shots at goal. “We created plenty of chances in the second half,” observed Guardiola, who again showed his instinct for a good substitution by bringing on Mario Mandzukic after an hour. The Croat promptly headed a Lahm centre back across goal and into the far corner to settle the contest after 65 minutes.

Sammer: Our will to win

“It astounds me every time when the team shows the desire to win games like this, even when it’s occasionally not going so well,” enthused board member for sport Matthias Sammer. “Our results are very, very good,” he continued, while acknowledging there were areas “where we still have some work to do. But as before, we’re in a process of development and need to keep growing together.“

The Reds are not short of match opportunities to further the process, as a string of important Bundesliga matches is now on the horizon. The first of them is the Bavarian derby with FC Augsburg at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, a match Guardiola warned will be “another difficult game.” However, on current form, Bayern are capable of coming up with effective solutions to even the toughest problems.