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Joy for Javi

Focus on Barça as FCB ‘move on quickly’

Sportsmen and women don’t like losing under any circumstances, but the FC Bayern players very quickly put Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Leverkusen behind them. “We were already thinking about Barcelona,” Manuel Neuer frankly admitted. With the Bundesliga title done and dusted the previous weekend, there was precious little at stake for FCB at the BayArena. “We’ll move on quickly from this match. We’re totally focused on Wednesday,” commented Mario Götze.

Despite it all, a Munich side featuring a host of unfamiliar faces gave a decent account of themselves in the weekend’s biggest domestic fixture. “If we’d taken our chances, and I’m talking about myself here, it’d have been different,” acknowledged Götze, who could easily have opened the scoring on 27 minutes. Claudio Pizarro also came up just short three minutes after the restart. “That’s football – you’re punished for not taking your chances,” Neuer ruefully noted.

And that is exactly what happened on 55 minutes, as Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu netted one of his feared and admired direct free-kicks from 25 yards. “I’m angry,” said Neuer, “it was perfect for him. If he’d been allowed to choose where to take it from it would have been right there.” Bayer sub Julian Brandt finished off an 81st-minute counter-attack to seal Munich’s defeat.

Martinez ready to enjoy it again

It was the champions’ third Bundesliga defeat of the campaign, but the most important thing was that the injury list did not grow. Thomas Müller, Jérôme Boateng, Xabi Alonso and Juan Bernat were all excused duty entirely. And on a hugely positive note, Javi Martínez made his yearned-for comeback from an eight-and-a-half month lay-off. “I’m overjoyed,” Martínez told, “I’ve been through tough times but now I can enjoy football again.”

His team-mates were just as delighted. “Javi’s a great lad who’s worked really hard. I’m pleased and I just hope he stays fit,” enthused Dante. Neuer felt the game in Leverkusen was “a perfect moment” for the defender to return. Martínez will doubtless harbour happy memories of his evening, a feeling he will share with two up-and-coming youngsters: Rico Strieder and Lukas Görtler, who both made senior debuts. FC Bayern II captain Strieder even covered the full 90 minutes, with Görtler on as a sub in the second half.

Test against the best

“It was obviously a great feeling, really terrific. I totally enjoyed it,” said the 22-year-old Strieder, “an experience like that is what you’re working towards every day.” Bamberg-born Görtler, two years his junior, could hardly believe his good fortune: “Crazy, unbelievable, indescribable. Now I know why I play football and train every day.” The world’s best keeper was impressed: “They both did a very good job. All credit to the young lads,” Neuer declared.

Ultimately, however, the debutants story was little more than a cute footnote. All eyes are now on the “huge match” in Barcelona. “They’re in great shape,” agreed Dante, “but we need to go there with plenty of courage and confidence.” His fellow Brazilian Rafinha can hardly wait: “These are exactly the games we love. We want to test ourselves against the best!”