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‘Nothing works properly’ in Spain this season

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge couldn't resist it. A few words into his speech at Bayern's celebratory meal in Madrid after the German side secured their place in the Champions League final, he realised his microphone was broken.

A mischievous glint in his eye, he tapped it briefly before declaring: “Typical Spain. Nothing works properly.”

It was probably a good job that the Spanish waiters didn't understand him, but the sentiment was far from malicious. Rather a mischievous allusion to the cliches which had surrounded the tie, and both teams in it, from start to finish.

Despite the Germans winning on penalties, and despite a Spanish technician's failure to work a microphone, the semi-final between Bayern and Real Madrid was anything but a fulfilment of those preconceptions.

Indeed, the most accurate assessment was Rummenigge's more serious assertion that Bayern's victory was “an historic win" - for once, the term was used appropriately.

Favourites

Before the tie, the talk had been of Real Madrid as the favourites. Their quality in La Liga, coupled with the reputation of most of their players that made them, in the eyes of a lazy majority, clearly the superior force against a Bayern side which, if the previews were to be believed, relied heavily on Robben and Ribery.

Only Gary Neville, among the British television media, had been bold enough to suggest that, given the fact that the Bundesliga receives less coverage than the Spanish league, it would be very difficult for anyone who did not watch both regularly to write off either side.

He was quite right. As it happens, Bayern's Champions League form of late had been far superior to their domestic performances, but those who watch them regularly know that, on their day, they are just as formidable a force as Real Madrid, albeit a slightly less glittering one.

You need only to watch over the videos of both legs to see that Bayern were, and were always going to be, perfectly capable of dominating Real Madrid for long periods if the circumstances were conducive.

Yet even after a first leg in which they could have scored several more, and only conceded due to a poor error, the public opinion all over Europe remained that Bayern could not survive the second leg.

'A long time in the Bernabeu'

The Madrid paper Marca went so far as to print Wednesday morning's headline in German; a battle cry which read: “90 minutes is a long time in the Bernabeu”.

The truth of the situation was that neither of these teams were clear favourites ahead of this tie, and certainly not ahead of the second leg.

Both have a front line and a midfield which is the envy of Europe – Catalonia excluded – and a defence which is prone to wobbling. Both have world class goalkeeper, both have one of the most astute tacticians of the modern game as their respective managers.

It was a true European Cup semi-final, between two teams rebuilding a European reputation which has been dragged through the mud as a result of a trophy drought for the last decade. And that is what was borne out in the matches themselves.

At no single point in the 210 minutes of football played could anyone have legitimately argued that one team was way out in front. To use another cliche, the tie was, for its entire duration, on a knife edge.

Respect

As for the so called bad blood, that other much circulated cliche of Real Madrid versus FC Bayern games, the distinct lack of red cards was testament to the fact that both teams had too much respect for one another, in a literal sense, to come to any serious blows.

That Bayern eventually won out is a tribute to the fearlessness and the confidence with which they played against opponents who almost everyone had demanded they should fear.

Bastian Schweinsteiger's winning penalty was the essence of cool, as was, perhaps more notably, David Alaba's. The 19-year-old, who had been - arguably unfairly - denied his place in the final by a questionable penalty decision early on did not bat an eyelid when given the task of putting the ball past one of the game's greatest ever goalkeepers.

Call it German efficiency if you will, but Alaba is Austrian. Xabi Alonso, moreover, is Spanish, and his penalty was equally impressive. This was not a case of culture clash, it was a case of two almighty powers battling it out to the death.

Rummenigge was right, this was an historic win. But not because Bayern were the underdogs, not because it was a triumph of efficiency over style, not because these two teams hate each other.

It was an historic win because, over two legs, Bayern proved that they are now very much on the same level as Real Madrid and Barcelona.

By Kit Holden

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