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Madrid rise to the occasion

Published: Thursday 11 April 2002, 15.50CET
Real Madrid CF let their football do the talking against FC Bayern München. features

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Published: Thursday 11 April 2002, 15.50CET

Madrid rise to the occasion

Real Madrid CF let their football do the talking against FC Bayern München.

Memorable though the occasion was, it is difficult to escape the notion that this game, like so many big games before it, was won and lost as much in the minds of the players as it was by their deeds.

Holders beaten
Real Madrid CF reached the semi-finals of the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League by beating the holders FC Bayern München 3-2 on aggregate and 2-0 on the night with goals by Iván Helguera and substitute Guti; however, the war of words that preceded this quarter-final second leg between two of Europe's most proud and famous clubs should not be overlooked.

Positive reaction
Coaches and players are often misquoted, and on the European stage much is lost in translation. But undeniably Madrid, so often the losers in recent tussles with Bayern, took umbrage at comments supposedly made after the first leg and they channelled their feelings in such a positive manner for the second leg that they barely took a backward step all night.

Crowd displeased
Bayern were cast as the villains, and greeted as such by the vast majority in the Santiago Bernabéu crowd, who may be inclined to mark every Madrid pass with cries of "Olé!" as soon as they take a slender lead but who, nevertheless, would not like their team to be described as arrogant.

Grand finale
As for the arch-villain there was only one candidate: Bayern captain Stefan Effenberg. Rarely can one player have so embodied his team's virtues: economy of effort, precise positioning, accurate passing, no challenge shirked. If, as seems likely, his 90th appearance on UEFA's famous stage is also to be his last (he intends to leave Bayern this summer when he will turn 34), then in many ways, despite the defeat, it was still a grand finale.

Mutual respect
Effenberg was booked early on, yet he never wavered; he was pelted with all manner of debris when trying to take corners but never lost his composure; he scowled and fouled and strutted throughout but when, at the final whistle, he warmly embraced his rival captain, Fernando Hierro, and his rival playmaker, Zinedine Zidane, he showed just how the game should be played at the highest level.

Hargreaves encouraged
Effenberg prompted and cajoled his team-mates, encouraging the 21-year-old Owen Hargreaves into yet another astonishly mature performance in midfield, one moment shackling the great Zidane on the edge of the visitors' penalty area, the next setting off in the hope of launching a meaningful Bayern attack.

Enthusiastic support
In truth there were not many of those, but Bayern did not set out simply to defend their first-leg lead; they were just not given the chance to improve upon it by a relentless Madrid performance in which stars like Zidane, Luis Figo, Raúl González and Roberto Carlos shone brightly all night. Others such as Santiago Solari and Fernando Morientes offered enthusiastic support.

'Excellent players'
It is testament to Bayern's stout defence, and in particular Robert Kovac and Thomas Linke, that they only lost 2-0, such was Madrid's dominance. "We've been eliminated by a very good team with some excellent players," Bayern's coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, admitted. "Real played a great first half and although Bayern are a team that can play offensively, this time we weren't able to impose ourselves on the game."

Intense match
Hitzfeld's opposite number, Vicente del Bosque, seemed quietly satisfied. "I think this second leg was won by the team that most deserved it," he said. "It was an intense and tough game - we're talking about a European match with two great clubs, and the intensity corresponded to a game of this level.

Barcelona next
"But our form in this competition has been brilliant so far," added the Madrid coach, "and we've taken another big step towards the final." Now, only FC Barcelona stand in their way...

Last updated: 12/04/02 1.12CET

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