By JOHN BOSCHINI
Either Bayern Munich will be hosting the UEFA Champions League final, or Jose Mourinho will be bringing another team to Europe's grandest stage. One way or another, it's all on the line in Spain's capital city on Wednesday.
Bayern Munich take a 2-1 lead over Real Madrid back to Estadio Santiago Bernabeu for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal. Madrid have been impressive at home in this season's Champions League campaign, and the away goal scored by Mesut Ozil could prove vital in Mourinho bringing his second team to the UCL final in three years. Bayern Munich, however, have the added motivation of trying to advance to a final that is being held in their home stadium.
Real Madrid are averaging more than four goals per game at home in the Champions League so the pressure is on Bayern Munich to come up with some offense and not just try and defend for 90 minutes. The front three of Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben caused Madrid a host of problems with speedy play down the wings.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is back fit for Bayern Munich after struggling last week but manager Jupp Heynckes will be without a couple of defenders. Mourinho, who is coaching in his third consecutive Champions League semifinal, is likely still without Ricardo Carvalho.
Here is a look ahead to today's titanic clash:
TV: FX, 2:45 p.m.
The First Leg: Bayern were dominant for long stretches of the first leg and were worthy winners in the end. Mario Gomez struck in the final minute from very close range to give Bayern a slender advantage.
Munich took the lead in the 17th minute when Ribery fired past Iker Casillas from 10 yards out. They failed to extend their lead before the interval and were punished in the early stages of the second half. Cristiano Ronaldo's tame effort was saved by Manuel Neuer but the rebound came to Karim Benzema, who combined with Ronaldo to set up Ozil for a close-range goal.
The winner came when Philipp Lahm streaked down the right flank and whipped in a cross. Gomez bundled the ball past Casillas for the game-winning goal.
The Lowdown: Real Madrid may be down but should still be considered slight favorites playing at home. They have a perfect record at home in the Champions League this season and the front line of Ronaldo, Ozil and Benzema puts enormous pressure on Bayern's defense. With Kaka and Gonzalo Higuain leading an incredibly deep bench, fatigue should not be much of an issue for Mouinho's men, who are coming off an exhilarating victory over Barcelona to all but wrap up the La Liga title over the weekend.
Sitting back and defending will probably not be the plan for the visitors. Their offense is built on speed and efficient finishing, so Madrid must be careful not to allow Bayern to strike on the counterattack. Neuer has been one of, if not the, best keepers in the world over the past year and will undoubtedly be called upon repeatedly. Marcelo might be given the start on the left wing to try and counter Bayern's speed.
Bayern's players have stated publicly that taking the 85,000 on hand at the Bernabeu out of the game will be vital. If Madrid fail to make in impact in the first 30 minutes, the home-field advantage could turn into negative pressure from the fans.
What do you think of today's game? Can Bayern hold out against Real Madrid? Do you see Madrid moving on to face Chelsea?
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