Michelle Kaufman: European soccer sees shift in power to Germany
04/28/2013 12:37 AM
04/28/2013 12:44 AM
Judging from across the big pond, it appears there is a changing of the guard taking place in European soccer, a major power shift, a passing of the torch.
Pick your cliché. Bottom line is this: Two nights in a row last week, a Spanish giant gave up four goals to a German team, and we are almost certainly headed to an all-German Champions League final May 25 at Wembley Stadium.
In both Champions League semifinal matches, the German team was superior in every way — pace, precision, fitness, organization.
First, it was Barcelona’s turn to get embarrassed. Despite the star-studded club’s 13-point lead over Real Madrid heading into this weekend’s La Liga matches, Barca looked very ordinary against Bayern Munich, falling 4-0. It was Barca’s worst European loss in 16 years.
Never mind that the Spanish team included the likes of Lionel Messi , Andres Iniesta , Sergio Busquets , Xavi and Gerard Pique . They could not match the skill, speed or strength of Franck Ribery , Arjen Robben , Thomas Muller , Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez .
“They gave us a drubbing,” Piqué said. “They were quicker than us and better than us. There are no excuses.”
Barcelona coach Jordi Roura said the players were depressed and humiliated. He dismissed any suggestions that bad officiating led to the loss.
“I wouldn’t say the referee influenced the game,” he said. “We shouldn’t try to hide behind that. Bayern were just the better team, very good, very physical. We thought the players on the pitch would be good enough for us but we didn’t manage it. We didn’t get Messi into the game. He tried very hard and it was a great effort of his to be here but we just couldn’t do any more.”
Watching Bayern stifle Barca helps explain how it has a 20-point lead over Dortmund in the Bundesliga standings and why it has outscored league opponents 89-14 this season. Assuming Bayern hangs on after Wednesday’s second leg of the semifinals, the German club will be playing in its third Champions League final in four years.
It’s no wonder Pep Guardiola signed on to coach Bayern next season. No-brainer.
The deciding leg will be at Camp Nou, but Bayern has proved to be a good road team, going 14-0-1 away from home this season and outscoring road opponents 37-3.
Roura said it would be tough to overcome a four-goal deficit.
“It [the score] is a wonder, a sensation, however you want to describe it,” he said. “Four-nil is a huge result, and there is a lot of catching up to do. Of course it will be very difficult to reach the final now. I don’t think that kind of result has ever happened in the history of the Champions League, but we will do our best. We will hope, do our best and see if it works and if the referee will be in our favor.”
A day after the shocking Barca defeat, Real Madrid fans stopped laughing at their Spanish rivals. It was their turn to be humbled by a German club. Dortmund dismantled Real Madrid 4-1 in much the same way, with organization, strength, speed and skill. Polish forward Robert Lewandowski scored all four goals for Dortmund, the first player ever to score four in a Champions League semifinal.
Rumor has it Lewandowski is headed to Bayern after this season, which is a scary thought for the rest of the Bundesliga.
Although the German resurgence has been gradual, it is not altogether surprising. Remember, Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, and in preparation for that Cup, the German youth soccer system got a big upgrading in the early 2000s. In turn, the league got better, and attracted better foreign players.
All seven Bundesliga clubs advanced out of their Champions League and Europa League group stages, which had never happened before. After years of domination by the English, Spanish and Italian leagues, the German league has caught up — and then some.• Suarez contrite: Liverpool forward Luis Suarez will serve a 10-match ban for biting an opponent and will not appeal the sanctions. He also was fined for biting Branislav Ivanovic’s arm during a 2-2 tie with Chelsea last Sunday. The Uruguayan apologized on his website.
“I would like to explain to everybody that I decided to accept the ban because while 10 games is clearly greater than those bans given in past cases where players have actually been seriously injured, I acknowledge that my actions were not acceptable on the football pitch so I do not want to give the wrong impression to people by making an appeal.
“I hope that all the people who I have offended at Anfield last Sunday will grant me forgiveness and I again repeat my personal apology to Branislav.”
Liverpool management and many fans thought Suarez was punished too harshly because of his history. He was suspended seven matches for biting an opponent in a Dutch league game in 2010 and eight games for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra in 2011.• Box office: Spain plays Haiti on June 8 at Sun Life Stadium in a friendly that will serve as the Spanish national team’s preparation for the Confederations Cup in Brazil later that month. The full Spain roster is expected, including many stars from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Tickets start at $29 and VIP seats will be made available on the sidelines. All ticketholders will be invited to watch practice at the stadium the day before the match. Fans can purchase tickets at www.sunlifestadium.com and www.ticketmaster.com or by calling the stadium box office at (305) 943-8000.
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