Barca reach Champions League final despite Bayern loss
MUNICH – Barcelona’s Neymar struck twice to put the Spanish side in the Champions League final despite a 3-2 loss at Bayern Munich on Tuesday as they progressed 5-3 on aggregate and will face Real Madrid or Juventus next month.
The tricky Brazil forward’s double in 14 first-half minutes killed off the hosts’ slim chances following the Spanish side’s 3-0 first leg win at the Nou Camp last week over their former coach Pep Guardiola’s team.
The Spaniards are now one victory away from triumphing in each of the three titles they are chasing including a domestic league and Cup double and the Champions League where they will play in the showpiece game in Berlin on June 6.
Neymar was twice picked out by striker Luis Suarez, after Bayern’s seventh minute lead through Medhi Benatia had briefly reignited the Germans’ hopes.
Bayern struck back with second-half goals from Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller but were still left needing another three to qualify for the showpiece match.
“We are where we want to be each year, one step from winning everything, and we’ll try to take that step,” Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta said.
“We can’t stop now, we can’t be satisfied with what we have achieved already, because in the end the titles are what count and it would be incredible for the fans and the team.”
Barcelona, into an eighth European Cup final, will make their first appearance since 2011, when they won the trophy under Guardiola.
It was Barca’s first Champions League away defeat this term as Bayern ended a four-game losing run in all competitions, but Guardiola’s aura of invincibility has been hit after he failed for the second season to reach the final with the German club.
Barcelona almost got a goal after five minutes through Ivan Rakitic but Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer palmed the Croat’s shot wide at full stretch.
Two minutes later Bayern got the early goal they needed when Benatia was left completely unmarked to head home.
The Spaniards survived some intense pressure and responded in style when Lionel Messi, pulling the strings from a deep position, sent Uruguayan Suarez through to feed Neymar for an easy tap in after a dazzling South American combination.
Neymar all but ended Bayern’s hopes by drilling a low shot home in the 29th after Suarez’s cross from the right, with the hosts going into the break needing five goals to advance.
Barcelona eased off in the second half, losing Suarez substituted to a minor muscle problem, and Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski notched an equaliser just before the hour, shaking off Javier Mascherano and sending Ter Stegen the wrong way.
Mueller added another in the 74th but it was too little too late for the home side, who were missing several key players, including injured wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.
“As a player you always believe and we had incredible support.” said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm. “We gave everything and showed the will. Maybe the last two minutes in Barcelona cost us dearly (when they conceded the third goal).” – Reuters