Real Madrid and Barcelona might be the two best soccer teams in Spain, but they are not considered the two best clubs in Europe, at least not on Wednesday.
Barca was denied an opportunity to reach the May 19 final in Munich, Germany by a determined 10-man Chelsea side in a frustrating 3-2 home loss in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals on Tuesday.
In another stirring, nail-biting semifinal on Wednesday, Los Blancos were stopped in their march to a 10th European crown by a well disciplined Bayern Munich team. They might have won the game on the field -- a 2-1 triumph at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid -- but they ended the aggregate-goals series tied at 3-3, thanks to a 2-1 defeat in Munich last week.
But the German Bundesliga team prevailed in a tense penalty-kick shootout, winning the tie-breaker, 3-1, behind the heroics of goalkeeper Martin Neuer (two saves) and the conversions by David Alaba, Mario Gomez and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who fired home the game-winner into the left side.
Neuer's Real counterpart, World Cup winning goalkeeper Iker Casillas, duplicated his foe's efforts, saving kicks by Toni Kross and Philipp Lahm to bring the hosts back from a two-goal deficit. But he wasn't helped by his teammates as Cristiano Ronaldo, who finished with two goals, including a penalty-kick conversion during the match, and Kaka had theirs saved.
After Xabi Alonso put home his attempt, Sergio Ramos set up Schweinsteiger's heroics by making like an NFL place kicker and blasting his try well over the crossbar and into the crowd.
You have to wonder how much Saturday's El Clasico between Real and Barca took out of both sides -- mentally and physically. Real secured a 2-1 victory in that emotional encounter and on Wednesday the hosts looked like a tired team in the second half and in 30 minutes of extra time.
But that is taking nothing away from Bayern. The German side is a deserved finalist, becoming the first Euro finalist to host the championship confrontation, at Alianza Arena.
The first half, the opening 27 minutes for that matter, was scintillating as all of the goals were scored. Enjoying that 2-1 lead entering the match, Bayern conceded a penalty with the game barely five minutes old. A minute later, Ronaldo fired his spot kick to the lower left side (the same place he sent his ill-fated shootout attempt some two hours later) for a 1-0 lead.
The Portuguese international doubled the lead in the 14th minute as he took advantage of some lackadaisical Bayern defending and launched a 15-yard shot into the lower left corner for his 10th Champions League game in as many matches and 56th goal this season.
It looked like Real was in the driver's seat, but a determined Bayern side had some other ideas, did not panic and continued to plug away. The visitors were rewarded in the 27th minute as Pepe was called for a penalty for taking down Mario Gomez in the box. Dutchman Arjen Robben sent the ensuing spot kick toward the lower left corner. Casillas got his hands on it, but the shot had too much power for him to stop it. Robben, incidentally, was not called on to take a shootout attempt later on.
And that was it for the scoring over the next 93 minutes.
Casillas demonstrated his world class by stopping everything that came his way in regulation and extratime, denying Gomez several times. While he made two key saves to bring Real back from the brink in the shootout, he could not stop Schweinsteiger, a member of the Bayern team that lost in the final two years ago.
After Schweinsteiger converted his effort to start a grand celebration by Bayern players and in the city of Munich, Real coach Jose Mourinho immediately turned away and walked into the tunnel. He had seen more than enough.
As it turns out, both of Chelsea's and Bayern's triumphs came at a great cost.
The English Premier League team lost four key regulars for the final. The total included three to yellow-card accumulation and another to a red card -- captain and central defender John Terry.
Munich will be without three starters who also incurred yellow-card suspensions.
The teams won't be at full strength, but Barca coach Pep Guardiola and Mourinho would love to be in that quandary.
It's certainly better than the alternative, which is staying home and watching the final on TV.
For both sides, its wait ‘til next year.
Michael Lewis, who has covered international soccer for more than three decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com.
Michael Lewis, who has covered eight World Cups and has been reporting about soccer for four decades, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com or via Twitter at @soccerwriter.
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