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Much-needed break

Reds raise a toast to an ‘extraordinary’ year

The dressing room waited for Arjen Robben. The Dutchman sprinted from the mixed zone, closed the door behind him, and took the glass of champagne reserved for him. And then everybody joined in a toast to another extraordinary year for FC Bayern, crowned on Friday evening by a last-gasp 2-1 victory in Mainz. “We’re up to 45 points and that’s unbelievable,” declared chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge when he emerged from the dressing room ten minutes later. “We’re overjoyed,” Matthias Sammer confirmed.

Bayern were down to the bare bones in squad terms for the trip to Mainz. Almost an entire team - Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Robert Lewandowski, Mehdi Benatia, Sebastian Rode, David Alaba, Thiago, Javi Martínez, Holger Badstuber and Tom Starke – missed out with injury. “You can see we’re running on empty,” reflected Rummenigge, “we need this winter break to regenerate and recharge our batteries.”

Roared on by a magnificent home crowd, similarly injury-hit Mainz pushed Bayern all the way. “They were terrific and their tactical set-up was outstanding,” observed Sammer. Manuel Neuer and Co had to survive a few hairy moments, and it was good that Bastian Schweinsteiger cancelled out the home team’s 21st-minute opener through Elkin Soto with a direct free-kick just three minutes later.

Below-par FCB

“I’ve not actually trained set pieces since the World Cup,” revealed the captain on the night, “Franck was the perfect gentleman, he left the free-kick to me and said: Score!” The outcome was in the balance after that. “A draw might have been a more just result,” admitted Rummenigge, but the tireless Robben was not done and delivered the knockout blow in the 90th minute.

“It definitely wasn’t our best performance but we fought all the way to the end,” said the Dutchman after moving onto ten goals for the season. Thomas Müller was delighted: “There’s no better way to win, and you need a little bit of luck from time to time.” Sammer felt FCB could have lived with a point, “but the way it turned out is obviously even better.”

The stars now head off on their holidays with a good feeling and a superb going-in position for the rest of the season. “A last game like that is always a bit special, because everyone knows you’ve reached the end for a while,” said Robben, looking forward to quality time with his family. The last word went to Müller: “We all need to switch off for a while. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”