The spectators in the ground and watching on TV rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Could that really be David Alaba? It was. Just 19 years old, but already as crafty as a grizzled veteran, the Austrian was the first to stride up to the penalty spot – and coolly tucked the ball away. It was the start of a devastatingly efficient shoot-out for Bayern, as Franck Ribéry, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos made no mistake from the spot, while Gladbach’s Dante missed the target and Havard Nordtveit was foiled by Manuel Neuer.
At the end, there was no containing the jubilation over the Reds’ 4-2 win on penalties over Borussia Mönchengladbach in the DFB Cup semi-final. “It’s an amazing feeling,” Mario Gomez declared on behalf of his team-mates, “we’re absolutely elated.” Director of sport Christian Nerlinger, who had an added cause for celebration on his birthday, made no secret of his pleasure: “We’re overjoyed about achieving our dream of getting to Berlin.” The capital will host the final between the competition’s most successful club and current league leaders Borussia Dortmund on May 12.
However, it was no stroll in the Borussia Park for the men from Munich on Wednesday evening. Gladbach, currently third in the Bundesliga, fought fiercely all game long, as they had already done twice before against Bayern this season. But after 1-0 and 3-1 defeats in the league, now it was Bayern’s turn to come out on top, and deservedly so. Indeed, Kroos in the sixth minute, Gomez in the 15th or Arjen Robben in the 49th could have wrapped up the game in normal time.
“Failing to take those chances is the only complaint I can have against the team,” said Jupp Heynckes, who had shrugged off his cold. The delighted head coach added: “Apart from that, we put in a great performance overall.” Nerlinger also praised the “very solid” performance of the team and the fact that Bayern were still pressing forward in extra time. “We proved we’re extremely fit,” he said.
Despite Bayern’s dominance, with 19 attempts on goal to their opponents’ 11, it was the home side who had a massive chance to clinch the tie through Marco Reus in the 81st minute, but Neuer was too good for the Germany international. “Gladbach were very dangerous,” Nerlinger said, while Heynckes spoke of “an extraordinary cup battle between two very good sides”. The goalkeeper added: “Gladbach are hard to play against. We can be pleased with our performance.”
After the event, Neuer acknowledged that the penalty shoot-out was “just a matter of luck”. But Alaba’s nerveless opener put the Reds on the path to victory. “The coach asked me, and I felt confident in myself,” said the youngster, “fortunately it went in.” That earned Alaba respect from his team-mates too. “David is just 19, but he’s a good lad,” Ribéry said. “I’m really pleased for him.”
Bayern’s 18th final
Ribéry himself, Lahm and Kroos remained equally cool in the Gladbach cauldron. “Our penalties were very clean and accurate, as you could see,” said the captain. That the cliff-hanger ended in Bayern’s favour was also down to Neuer’s success in parrying the decisive penalty from Nordtveit.
The home side’s disappointment was summed up by coach Lucien Favre. “It’s hard to stomach,” the Swiss supremo said, but for Bayern there’s now the final in Berlin to look forward to, the 18th in the club’s history. “That adds to the pleasure – it will be a football showpiece,” said club president Uli Hoeneß. Neuer, who won the DFB Cup last year with Schalke, is already keenly anticipating the clash between “Germany’s two best teams at the moment. There are bound to be fireworks. I’m planning to keep my title.”
Next Hannover, then Marseille
However, that’s nearly two months away. Before then, as Kroos knows well, “we have a lot of other challenges ahead of us”. Hannover lie in wait in the Bundesliga on Saturday, and Olympique Marseille in the Champions League next Wednesday. But if the team display the same courage, passion and will to win seen on Wednesday night, Bayern have every chance of extending their run of success.