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Friday, April 27, 2012

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Body block: Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer stops a shot by Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo in the penalty shootout on Wednesday. AP

High drama in Bayern victory


MADRID — First Barcelona, then Real Madrid. Bayern Munich sent Madrid out on penalty kicks on Wednesday to reach the Champions League final and ensure neither of the Spanish giants will get a chance to play for the famous trophy.

Madrid's demise came a day after Chelsea stunned Barcelona at the Nou Camp and, just as Lionel Messi missed a penalty for defending champion Barca, his Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo had his spot kick saved in a tense shootout that sent Bayern through to face Chelsea at its Allianz Arena on May 19.

Bayern will become the first team to play for the trophy at its home stadium.

"Today we proved we are a great team," Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said. "When I think about the fact that we can play a final in our own stadium this is something to go absolutely crazy about."

Ronaldo appeared to have put the home side on its way to the final with two early goals, but Arjen Robben's 27th-minute penalty leveled the score over two legs at 3-3.

In the shootout, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer saved from Ronaldo and Kaka to put Bayern on course after it had scored its opening two kicks, before counterpart Iker Casillas denied Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm to drag Madrid back into it.

But Sergio Ramos skied his penalty high over the bar for Madrid, leaving Bastian Schweinsteiger to win it 3-1 for the visitors, the Germany international shooting straight down the middle to spark the celebrations.

Schweinsteiger ripped his shirt off and went screaming toward the Bayern fans, as Madrid coach Jose Mourinho — who watched the shootout from his knees — retreated down the tunnel. It gave Bayern a measure of revenge at the same stadium where Inter Milan — then coached by Mourinho — beat them in the final two years ago.

"Bayern deserves to go through," Mourinho conceded after Madrid bowed out in the semifinals for the second straight year. "That's the beauty of football, nobody knows what's going to happen. I hope it's a good final."

Barcelona was knocked out by Chelsea on Tuesday despite the London team being down to 10 men for most of the match. Messi left the pitch in tears after his penalty miss.

Some of Madrid's players were also crying Wednesday as they walked off with their heads hanging after coming so close to reaching their first final in 10 years.

"It's a big blow for us. It was a very exciting game, but penalties are always a lottery," Casillas said. "We played well, but Bayern is a great team. We now have to concentrate on the league."

Madrid at least has the domestic league title all but wrapped up after a 2-1 win over Barca on the weekend gave Mourinho's club a seven-point lead with four games remaining.

However, Mourinho said Saturday's league win probably hurt his team's chances against Bayern, which rested players on the day Borussia Dortmund was confirmed as champion.

"When it got to 2-1 it became difficult to play, the players knew they couldn't make any mistakes," he said.

The 20th meeting between Madrid and Bayern maintained a relentless pace in the first half.

Madrid charged out into an early lead after David Alaba handled when sliding to block Angel Di Maria's cross. Ronaldo showed no jitters as he stepped up to drill the spot kick into the right corner with goalkeeper Neuer guessing left.

Ronaldo's 10th goal of the tournament made it 2-0 following an excellent buildup that saw the Spanish leaders spread the ball around with Sami Khedira finding Mesut Oezil, who spotted a wide open Ronaldo outside the area to coolly pick his spot low and to the left.

"The first 15 minutes didn't go as we hoped to," said Heynckes, who led Madrid to victory in the competition in 1998. "Trailing 2-0, everyone knows the atmosphere here, everyone knows how difficult it is to come back from this score. But we improved with each minute and played organized in defense."

While Madrid thrived on the break, Bayern's reliance on possession and wingers Franck Ribery and Robben finally paid off in the 26th when Pepe was late to cover Mario Gomez, the Portugal center-back booked for bundling the Germany striker down as they chased a ball into the area.

Casillas guessed right and got a touch but could not keep Robben's powerful spot kick out as the Netherlands forward atoned for a glaring miss earlier.

Ronaldo and Karim Benzema continued to create problems for Bayern as Benzema curled around the far post after the half hour mark, while Neuer denied Ronaldo from long-range.

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