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Kisses and records

Bayern 'absolutely happy' with Zagreb trip

Once his work was done for the day, Pep Guardiola dispersed a kiss or two, one for the official interpreter, and one for the Dinamo Zagreb media director. At the post-match banquet in the team hotel half an hour later, the Spaniard took his seat with a grin and raised a glass of white wine to the FCB directors and club president Karl Hopfner. Guardiola has rarely been as relaxed after a Champions League encounter as in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s 2-0 victory in the Croatian metropolis – and there were several sound reasons for his contented state.

First, his team set yet another new record with the club’s best-ever performance in the Champions League group stages: FCB topped Group F on 15 points with 19 goal scored and only three conceded. Second, Guardiola passed two personal milestones on the night: his 50th Champions League victory as a coach, achieved more quickly than any man before him, and his 100th competitive victory with FC Bayern in 132 matches.

In his speech to the traditional post-match banquet shortly before midnight, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge described the achievements as “excellent numbers” and “worthy of praise.” The 240 guests in the Emerald Ballroom at the Zagreb Esplanade Hotel applauded warmly. The luxury hotel is steeped in tradition and once provided overnight accommodation for passengers on the Orient Express, but now served as a stop-off for FC Bayern as they pursue “big targets,” Rummenigge said. “I hope we’ll have more wonderful trips in the Champions League next year.”

'Step by step'

However, Rummenigge also advised all present to take things “step by step, and not allow ourselves to be forced into the role of overwhelming favourites. You have to approach the Champions League with a healthy dose of humility.” The men from Munich were reminded of the truth in that statement on a cold and damp night at Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium, where they met awkward and highly motivated opponents.

“It was a very tough match,” said Robert Lewandowski, who wrapped things up with a brace within three minutes (61, 64) after the break. “You have to be patient sometimes,” added the Pole. “We turned in a decent display and we're absolutely happy,” commented Thomas Müller, who struck a penalty against the post shortly before the final whistle (88). “I achieved what I wanted, sending the keeper the wrong way, but then I opened my stance too far.”

Ulreich between the sticks

The match stats reflect FCB’s dominance in Zagreb, as the visitors had 73 percent of the possession, 25 to 13 shots on goal, and put over 23 crosses to Dinamo’s eight. But in the first half in particular Champions League debutant Sven Ulreich had to make a string of fine saves to keep the scores level. “I'm glad I was able to show I'm there if needed,” the backup keeper commented.

But the German record champions did not want to spend too long reflecting on the match, turning their focus instead to the upcoming challenges before the winter break. “We're in for three games in eight days now. It's another crucial phase for us. We have to give everything we still have left,” warned Lewandowski. Guardiola paid his team “a huge compliment for this incredible group stage. Now our focus is on the last three matches.” But first the FCB head coach enjoyed the evening, maintaining an animated conversation with the board until the early hours.