presented by
Strength of character

‘It’ll bring us even closer together’

Overnight, a humble folding chair has become the talk of the German sporting press. It was the chair used by Pep Guardiola, who – outwardly at least – watched calmly and dispassionately as his team tackled a do-or-die penalty shootout not 50 yards to his left. Bayern took five spot-kicks, and scored the lot, possibly inspired by Guardiola’s cast-iron nerves. Manuel Neuer saved Josip Drmic’s first effort for Leverkusen, which meant injury-hit Bayern won 5-3 on penalties and progressed to the DFB Cup semi-finals.

“We fought side-by-side, our team spirit was fantastic. Winning like that brings us even closer together,” summarised Dante. FCB were already without a clutch of top players in Dortmund last weekend, and Bastian Schweinsteiger joined their number before Wednesday’s cup clash, during which Mehdi Benatia had to be substituted with a hamstring problem. “As everyone’s seen, we can still win important games even with all our injuries. We have to come through with passion and fighting spirit,” commented Sebastian Rode.

It was a close-run thing but ultimately the Reds did come through. Leverkusen were “tough opponents, just as we expected,” remarked Rode. The men from the Rhineland caused FCB a number of problems early in the game, but Munich were more dominant after half an hour or so. “It became a very intense match,” Dante said. “Everyone was desperate to avoid mistakes,” noted Neuer, “that was clear for all to see. It came down to mental strength.”

Apologetic Thiago

However, both teams had the chances to settle the contest before it even came to penalties. “Leverkusen had one or two clear-cut chances, and we had four,” reckoned Jérôme Boateng. Bayern had the ball in the net on one occasion but referee Felix Zwayer ruled that Robert Lewandowski had committed a foul before heading home, a stroke of luck for Leverkusen.

“It was a fantastic cup fight with near-misses and near sendings-off. On another day Lewandowski’s goal would be given,” admitted Bayer sporting director Rudi Völler, “but I think the incident with Thiago should have been a red card.” Indeed, Bayern’s fit-again and resurgent midfielder could not have complained had his extremely high boot against Stefan Kießling ended in his dismissal near the end of normal time. “I’m really sorry. I’ve apologised to Kießling several times. It wasn’t intentional, I simply didn’t see him,” said Thiago, described later by Guardiola as one of the fairest players in the game.

The Spaniard escaped with a yellow card and ended up tucking away the decisive fifth penalty in the shootout. Guardiola watched the drama unfold from the comfort of his folding chair. “The coach said to us: We’ve got the best goalkeeper in the world, so we should just relax and take our penalties,” revealed Rode, “and that’s what we did.” Pep punched the air in delight, embraced his staff and disappeared to the dressing rooms. Later, he explained everything: “I was tired and my back was hurting.”