Triumphant Reds ‘weary, happy and delighted’
The Bayern stars required their very last reserves of energy when they saluted the travelling faithful after the final whistle on Tuesday night, although there was enough left in the tank for a vigorous team celebration with the fans after Sven Ulreich, Arjen Robben & Co dug deep to secure a 2-1 victory away to Celtic in Glasgow and book a place in the Champions League last sixteen with two matches to spare. "We're delighted," commented David Alaba after the club's 250th victory in European competition, "it's definitely a good day."
"We've just had three games in six days and you're shattered by the end of that," explained Robben in the aftermath of an energy-sapping contest. "We knew it would be completely different compared to the home game," observed Ulreich, "Celtic's pressing was good, and the crowd was always there when they were needed. It was much harder here than in Munich." FCB comfortably won the first meeting 3-0.
The Bavarians soaked up the extraordinary atmosphere at Celtic Park. "That was football culture in its purest form," enthused Karl-Heinz Rummenigge at the post-match banquet. "We were pretty impressed by the setting," said Niklas Süle, who clearly enjoyed his third Champions League outing, "it was unbelievable when the anthem was played." Alaba knows the Champions League much better but still declared: "The atmosphere was unique, really special." Ulreich could only agree: "I really enjoyed playing at this stadium, especially given the way it finished."
The keeper played a crucial role in the positive outcome as the 29-year-old's long clearance proved to be the assist for Kingsley Coman's opening goal after 22 minutes – it was the first time a German keeper has turned provider in the Champions League since the data were first collected in 2003/04. After that he was a big figure in keeping the Scots at bay with a string of fine saves, including from the busy Stuart Armstrong shortly after half-time. "I'm pleased I played my part," Ulreich said modestly, although even he was powerless to prevent Callum McGregor's 74th-minute equaliser.
However, just three minutes and 37 seconds after the setback the visitors supplied the perfect reply when Alaba set up match-winner Javi Martínez, a towering figure in defensive midfield who showed immense bravery and got in where it hurts for his goal. "It could have gone the other way, but we know our strengths and our ability to fight back," said Alaba. "We tried to stay cool and play our football. It worked out at the end."
Jupp Heynckes was full of praise for the Scottish champions. "Celtic were magnificent, not just in terms of commitment and determination. They played good football too," said the FCB coach. "Scottish supporters and especially Celtic fans really get behind their team. All credit to our opponents who made it incredibly difficult for us." Süle added: "Celtic did really well and caused us problems. Luckily we've won and we're through to the last sixteen."
Lewandowski set to return
Bayern face one more huge challenge prior to the international break, when they go in search of a seventh win in seven games under Heynckes away to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga at 18:30 CET on Saturday. "We're pleased and delighted it's worked out for us in Glasgow, so now we'll focus on Saturday," said sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.
"We'll approach the match with great confidence," commented Robben, "the pressure's not on us. We can be happy – we were five points adrift but now we lead by three. For us it can only get better." And in the clash between the Bundesliga leaders and the home side in second, Bayern will have one less thing to worry about as top striker Robert Lewandowski is set to return. "He trained relatively well and he has no pain. At this moment, he looks good to start against Dortmund."