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Bayern 3 Barcelona 2

Bayern bow out with heads held high

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Despite a stirring 3-2 victory over favourites Barcelona in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg, Bayern’s quest for a place in this season’s big European final is over following a 5-3 aggregate defeat to the star-studded Catalans. Pep Guardiola’s men put up a valiant fight against the Spanish champions-elect but the burden of last week’s 3-0 away reverse and Barça’s deadly attacking power proved too much over the last four double-header.

The 70,000 full house at the Allianz Arena saw a fast and furious opening including the early goal the home team craved, scored after just seven minutes by Mehdi Benatia. The growing euphoria in the stadium was extinguished just eight minutes later when Neymar tapped in the equaliser, and the Brazilian piled on the agony with his side’s second after 29 minutes.

FCB refused to give up and classy Barça keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen clawed a Robert Lewandowski effort off the line, but the Pole went one better just short of the hour with a very well-taken equaliser. Thomas Müller restored his side’s lead a quarter of an hour from time but Barça parked the bus and the Reds were left with a narrow but ultimately fruitless win.

With the biggest European prize slipping agonisingly out of reach, the Bavarians have just two more matches this term, starting with the trip to relegation-threatened SC Freiburg on Saturday afternoon.

Unchanged line-ups

Compared to the weekend meeting with Augsburg, Guardiola made four changes to his team with Manuel Neuer, Rafinha, Mehdi Benatia and Xabi Alonso back in the side for former Barça man Pepe Reina, Mitch Weiser, Dante and Mario Götze. The quartet were joined on the bench by Javi Martinez and fit-again Sebastian Rode, but Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and David Alaba were still absent injured.

The German champions lined up just as they did at Camp Nou six days ago with Neuer in goal, Rafinha, Jerome Boateng, Benatia and Juan Bernat in a back four, Alonso in the holding position, captain Philipp Lahm, ex-Barcelona starlet Thiago and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, and Lewandowski and Müller up front.

Visiting coach Luis Enrique also fielded a line-up unchanged from the first leg featuring the fearsome front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

Mehdi on target, Neymar too

After English referee Mark Clattenburg whistled play underway, the sides tore into each other from the off with chances at either end for Müller and Ivan Rakitic, but Neuer made a fine save from the ex-Schalke man. FCB pushed on and had the precious opening goal they wanted with only seven minutes on the clock when the unmarked Benatia headed Alonso’s corner past ter Stegen in the visiting goal.

Lewandowski and Müller combined well and Schweinsteiger flashed a drive just too high, but Munich’s great start was ruined on the quarter-hour when Messi’s sublime pass behind the defence allowed Suarez to tee up Neymar for a tap-in and set FCB the monumental task of scoring at least four more goals.

Despite the sense of deflated expectation filling the ground Guardiola’s troops stuck to the task and ter Stegen was kept busy dealing with efforts from Müller, Lewandowski and Müller again after a lovely Thiago run. However, danger was ever-present at the other end too and Neuer saved smartly from Messi, but the keeper was powerless to prevent Neymar handing his side a 29th-minute lead from another Suarez assist.

It was a killer blow, but the crowd responded magnificently and Bayern threatened again towards the end of the first half, ter Stegen tipping a Schweinsteiger header over the bar and then somehow clawing Lewandowski’s effort off the line after only half-blocking the Pole’s initial shot, before Benatia steered a header wide.

FCB turn it round after half-time

The second half began with the sides cagily feeling each other out and a marked drop in the tempo of the contest, but Bernat signalled Bayern’s continuing attacking intent with a skidding low drive on 56 minutes, and Lewandowski levelled the scores with a terrific finish three minutes later from Lahm’s weighted pass, the Pole leaving Argentine enforcer Javier Mascherano sprawling before slotting past ter Stegen.

Müller’s shot on the turn slid wide of the target and Lahm failed to get a shot away after determined work by Lewandowski, before the captain gave way to Rode midway through the second period. Guardiola’s side were playing all the football now and Müller netted from 20 yards in the 74th minute after a neat move and Schweinsteiger’s unselfish lay-off.

Lewandowski was proving a real handful now but with a Spanish league title decider on the horizon Barça had clearly decided to settle for the narrow defeat on the night and pulled men back. Martinez and Götze replaced Schweinsteiger and Müller at the end before FCB’s European campaign for this term ended when Mr Clattenburg blew the final whistle.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley