By Dirk Fries, special to heinnews
Bastian Schweinsteiger routinely converted the final penalty to beat AC Milan 5-3 in the second semifinal of the 2011 Audi Cup at Munich’s Allianz Arena Tuesday night. Beating the Italian top squad allows the German record title winners a final matchup with Europe’s most dominant team, FC Barcelona, who had earlier beaten International Porto Alegre, also on penalties.
The showdown against Milan was Bayern’s home premiere and effectively a final tune-up for the season, which will begin with Monday’s German Cup first round match against second division Eintracht Braunschweig. That’s why Bayern’s Coach Jupp Heynckes sent a strong starting line-up out for the test against the Italians.
Playing against the agile and forceful striker duo of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cassano, Bayern’s newly formed defense – with Holger Badstuber and Daniel van Buyten as centrals and Rafinha and Philipp Lahm on the outside positions – did not get off to a good start. One quick counter attack and Ibrahimovic was left uncovered, lofting the ball past goalie Mauel Neuer into the net in the fourth minute.
After 20 minutes the Bayern defense line got a better grip on its opponents, allowing Bayern to charge more aggressively towards the Milan goal. Eventually, Bayern’s offensive effort were rewarded after 36 minutes when Toni Kroos stopped the ball just outside the penalty area, spun around and shot low into the right corner, leaving Milan’s keeper no chance to prevent the equalizer.
While Milan, who will not begin the season for a couple of weeks, made several substitutions coming back after half time, Bayern treated the game like less than a friendly to give all its players some work. For the Germans, the same 11 players came out to the pitch and held a Milan team in check even better. Moving the ball around and creating a number scoring chances, Bayern just did not make that opening pass or find the open man at the right time to push itself in front. The game was still even 1-1 after 90 minutes, sending it to a decisive penalty shootout.
While all Bayern players netted their penalty attempts, Milan’s Italian striker Paloschi put the ball above the crossbar, setting the stage for Bastian Schweinsteiger’s decisive penalty. Replying to the question whether Bayern had practiced penalties preparing for the Audi Cup, the midfielder replied: “No we didn’t. But we do have a number of excellent penalty converters.”
Analyzing the game, the German international said: “The team felt pretty good. You could tell that we are a little ahead of Milan right now, which still has some time. Overall, we have reason to be content. Maybe we should have scored a few more goals. All in all we had some good phases throughout the match. We had lots of opportunities to score, we just couldn’t play that last pass. Maybe we should have played out our chances a little less hectically.”
Commenting on Munich’s defensive performance Schweinsteiger said: “We did make a few mistakes on defense that must not happen like that, for example when Milan scored on us. But overall we were solid defensively.”
Added Munich striker Mario Gomez with his eyes on the Audi Cup final against Barcelona: “The final is not that important. We can only learn from these games. It’s a great preparation. Tomorrow we will go out, compete and try to win.”
His teammate Schweinsteiger was already looking a bit further ahead. Regarding Bayern’s DFB-Cup game against Braunschweig on Monday he told reporters: “At FC Bayern you are always damned to win. Everything else is just not good enough. Braunschweig have found their rhythm, having played two league games already. The game is going to be a tough one, and ask a lot from us. We need to give it 100 percent.”