Atletico reaches Champions League final
Semifinal finishes 2-2 on aggregate
Bayern beaten on away goals after 2-1 win
Atletico will face Man City or Real Madrid
It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Pep Guardiola’s reign at Bayern Munich will finish without the one thing he and the club desired more than any other – the Champions League trophy.
Ousted by Atletico Madrid on away goals, despite winning the second leg of its semifinal tie 2-1, Bayern’s dreams of a sixth European title are over.
It is three years since Guardiola arrived in Munich with the club having just won Europe’s most prestigious club competition – a triumph which completed a famous and historic treble under Jupp Heynckes.
Bayern was unstoppable, playing football which left opponents trailing in its wake, and had dominated the Bundesliga after wrestling control back from Borussia Dortmund.
Guardiola, the man who had revolutionized football with the “tiki-taka” style so beautifully played by his Barcelona teams, was supposed to be the man to take Bayern to the next level.
And yet, despite winning two league titles, soon to be three, and three cup competitions, it is the failure to win the biggest prize of all which will leave a blemish on his otherwise near perfect resume.
Instead, he will soon depart Munich for Manchester City, a club which could yet win this season’s competition, to try his luck in England’s Premier League.
“That is football. You can play better and still be eliminated,” Guardiola told reporters. “I feel sorry for my players because they deserved the very best.”
And yet it could have been so different had Thomas Muller scored from the penalty spot at a time where Bayern already led on the night and was threatening to take apart one of the most miserly defenses in European football.
Muller’s failure not only turned the game on its head but proved to be the moment where Guardiola’s quest came to a premature end.
For a man who came as close to humanly possible in creating perfect football at Barcelona, and has succeeded on a domestic level with Bayern, this setback will hurt Guardiola.
Guardiola has changed Bayern – the way it plays, the ethos, the shape, the thought process – and it has moved forward from the side which won the Champions League on that famous night at Wembley three years ago. Yet, perhaps it has not moved forward quite enough.
Some will accuse Guardiola of being a failure – an accusation which borders on the absurd. Few have achieved what he has in his managerial career and at 45 he will surely preside over more successes in the future. Unfortunately for him, it was just not meant to be.
On this occasion Atletico inflicted a third consecutive semifinal defeat by Spanish opposition on Guardiola’s side. Atletico, a team which plays its role as the underdog to perfection, progressed on away goals Tuesday after the tie finished 2-2 on aggregate.
Diego Simeone’s players – a band of brothers who, like football’s most celebrated underdog Leicester City, simply do not know when they are beaten – grafted, fought and took the opportunity to inflict yet more pain on Guardiola.
Antoine Griezmann, one of the outstanding players of the season, administered the fatal blow to Bayern, firing home eight minutes after the interval to ensure his side registered a crucial away goal.
That Atletico lost 2-1 on the night would prove irrelevant. Its 1-0 win in the first leg was always likely to leave Bayern facing a difficult task, though its first-half display gave plenty of reason for encouragement as Guardiola’s players produced a fine showing.
Xabi Alonso’s 31st-minute free kick, which took a wicked deflection off Jose Gimenez before flying into the Atletico net, gave the home side the perfect start. It was a base on which Bayern should have built, especially when Gimenez fouled Javi Martinez to gift the home side a penalty.
Muller, who had been threatening throughout the opening half hour, stood up to take the kick but his effort was brilliantly saved by Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak. It was a moment which would change the game as Bayern’s self-belief began to drain away before the ball had scarcely left Oblak’s gloves.
That miss was to prove costly as within eight minutes of the restart Atletico struck the fatal blow when Fernando Torres played Griezmann through on goal and the Frenchman produced a fine finish to fire the ball past the onrushing Manuel Neuer for his 31st of the season.
That goal appeared to have ended Bayern’s hopes but with 17 minutes of the contest remaining, Robert Lewandowski headed home from close range to set up frantic finale.
Roared on by a passionate home crowd, Bayern laid siege to the Atletico goal. Yet, with six minutes left, the visiting side should have killed off the tie.
Torres broke away from his marker before going down under the challenge of Martinez – an offense which appeared to take place outside of the penalty area.
Referee Cuneyt Cakir disagreed and awarded the spot kick. Torres strode forward and hit his effort firmly but Neuer produced a fine save to keep his side in contention.
From there on it was as thrilling as it was frantic, but there was to be no fairytale ending for Bayern nor Guardiola.
Instead, it is Atletico which will have its date with destiny and the opportunity of redemption.
Three years ago, Simeone’s side was moments from sporting immortality.
Leading arch rival Real Madrid in the Champions League final courtesy of Diego Godin’s goal, it reached the 92nd minute with its advantage intact.
Yet, the scars of what transpired in the moments after has left scars which still burn hot.
Sergio Ramos headed home a 93rd-minute equalizer to force extra-time before Real ran riot, scoring three more goals to win 4-1.
It is an experience which those who hold Atletico dear in their hearts can ever forget.
“I’m proud of what has happened to this club,” Simeone told BT Sport.
“We are beating the best teams in the world. Over the course of 180 minutes we showed the work of three years.
“I hope that destiny will eventually help us in the final. It doesn’t matter, whoever we play.”
Destiny awaits – and so too could Real.
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