Remember it forever: Bayern Munich eliminate Barcelona, 7-0

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Barcelona was never equipped to challenge, and it showed. It showed with every inept attack thwarted by Bayern Munich’s commanding defense. It showed in every frantic challenge needed to prevent Munich’s first goals. And ultimately, embarrassingly, and historically, it showed on the scoreboard.

Down 4-0 to visiting Bayern Munich at kickoff, the Lionel Messi-less hosts scarcely put up a fight, with Bayern’s three-second half goals turning a walk into a rout. After their 3-0 loss at the Nou Camp, Spain’s champions-to-be exit Champions League with an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate loss, a result sure to leave European soccer in awe of the juggernaut this Bayern team’s become.

After a goalless first half, Bayern winger Arjen Robben opened the scoring with a 48th minute left-footed finish into the far netting from the right side of the box. In the 72nd minute, Gerard Piqué’s failed clearance of a Franck Ribery cross left the Barcelona defender with an own goal. Completing the rout, Thomas Müller scored his third goal of the tie, heading past Victor Valdes in the 78th minute.

The victory sets up last week’s inevitable. For the third time in four years, Bayern are in the UEFA Champions League final, this time set to face dethroned Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund in the competition’s first-ever all German final.

MORE: Bayern’s bold, beautiful plan

Dortmund confirmed their place yesterday with an unexpectedly close call at the Santiago Bernabéu, with late goals from Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos leaving Real Madrid one goal from advancing come full-time. But with Barcelona leaving Messi on the bench and Sergio Busquets out of the team, a starting XI that was also deprived of Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba never came close to exhibiting the quality required to overturn a four-goal deficit.

Instead, it was Bayern providing a muted version of last week’s onslaught. Barcelona again held much of the ball, yet it München provided all of the threats, with only sliding tackles from Piqué preventing the visitors from padding their lead early. With Alex Song fully embracing a libero’s role, Barcelona tried to go wide-to-in on Bayern’s defense, but with Davi Alves unable to make headway against David Alaba, Barcelona were no more dangerous than last week’s inept showing in Munich.

But it was Alaba who made the game’s first meaningful impact, a beautiful diagonal ball from just inside his attacking half dropped into the foot of Robben. Robben was allowed to cut inside to use his only weapon, his left foot, and curled a ball into the side-netting from 16 yards out.

Attacking from wide also created Bayern’s final two goals, both through Franck Ribery. In the 72nd minute, a ball played wide by Luiz Gustavo (who had come on for Bastian Schweinsteiger) saw Ribery drill a high ball across the top of the six-yard box. Piqué misjudged the cross. As he tried to put a clearance up and out of play, he saw the ball hit off his knee and easily beat a defenseless Valdes.

Six minutes later, a ball sent out by Mario Mandzukic allowed Ribery to loft a perfect far post cross for Müller, who need only elevate to meet the ball and score from one-yard out.

Demoralized, Barcelona played the final 15 minutes more worried about an escalating embarrassment than any futile attempts to save face. Whatever semblance of pride that could have been salvaged was scattered by the flight of Piqué’s own goal. Having entered the round with a flock of believers convinced they were still the world’s best team, Barcelona leave the competition beneath the seven-goal burden of their reality: They are far adrift of Europe’s best, proving much closer to Paris Saint-Germain and Milan then another European Cup.

MORE: Highlights – Bayern send off Barça

If the last two days have proved anything, it’s that Bayern Munich deserve the mantle of Europe’s best. After a 7-0 win, the discussion ceases to be interesting. If Borussia Dortmund upset Bayern at Wembley, it should be seen as a significant upset, because whereas Bayern’s German rivals struggled to maintain the three-goal lead they carried into the Spanish capital, Bayern capped a performance for the ages, the lopsided nature of which may ultimately do them a disservice in history’s eyes.

Years from now, when people see 7-0 as the tie’s final score, they’ll assume Barcelona was a shadow of their former selves – a team who’d fallen from the ranks of Europe’s elite. Only half of which is true, of course. Barcelona are clearly not the team they were two years ago, but their walk through La Liga leaves them credentials as strong any non-Bayern team in Europe. They may be closer to PSG than Bayern, but almost any of Bayern’s challengers are. Barcelona are still very formidable opposition.

Yet Bayern embarrassed them, an achievement which, in time, we’ll hopefully come to see as a symbol of München’s greatness, not Barcelona’s failures. Though Barça’s not playing at their same Champions League-winning levels, after today, it’s unclear even the great teams of Cruyff or Guardiola could derail this Bayern Munich juggernaut.

At least, after completing a 7-0 rout at the Nou Camp, it’s worth a discussion.

Platini vows to return to soccer after “end of long nightmare”

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PARIS (AP) Banned former UEFA President and FIFA vice president Michel Platini says he is planning to return to soccer after Swiss federal prosecutors confirmed he was not being charged in an investigation into possible financial wrongdoing.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Platini says in a statement it’s “the end of a long nightmare for my family and those close to me.”

Since September 2015, the former France midfielder had the status of “between a witness and an accused person” in criminal proceedings opened against then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter. No criminal case was ever opened against Platini.

The evidence related to Blatter authorizing FIFA to pay Platini $2 million in uncontracted back salary in 2011.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

FIFA’s ethics committee also investigated Platini’s request to FIFA for pension contributions he was not entitled to. It was agreed by Blatter and added more than $1 million to Platini’s retirement fund.

Platini was eventually banned for four years, through October 2019. Both he and Blatter denied wrongdoing but Court of Arbitration for Sport judges refused to overturn his ban and that of Blatter’s.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The case meant Platini was removed from the UEFA presidency and he was barred from trying to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in 2016.

Platini, a former France captain and coach, says “I will come back: where, when, how? It’s too early to say. But I will come back into football.

“Because football is my life and I deny anyone the right to deprive me of my life,” the 62-year-old Platini says.

Neymar appears in good shape after first week with Brazil

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar finished his first full week of training with Brazil on Saturday in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

The striker continued his recovery, dribbling and passing at high speed in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before the national team sets up camp in London on Monday.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

[ MORE: Neymar “annoyed” by latest (and constant) transfer speculation ]

Earlier in the week, members of Brazil’s coaching staff said Neymar was fit to train but they tried to reduce pressure on him by saying it would take time until he delivered his best performances.

Left back Filipe Luis said Neymar did well in training but still needs to forget the injury.

“I had a serious injury in 2010 and I came back with fear. In the first chance I had in a game, I went with it all so I could lose that fear. I saw it didn’t hurt and I just forgot,” Luis said. “It will be the same with Neymar, the first time an opponent kicks him … he will forget it.”

In the first training session in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, Neymar occasionally dragged his right foot onto the pitch. On Thursday he took his right boot off, sat down for a few minutes and looked upset. Once the football was underway, he seemed as fit as his teammates despite accidentally kicking the pitch with his injured foot. He soon afterward got back in action.

[ MORE: Messi: It would be ‘terrible’ to see Neymar at Real Madrid ]

In the first and only Brazil open training session, with fans screaming his name on the sidelines, a playful Neymar nutmegged right-back Danilo and flipped the ball over Luis’ head.

Throughout the week Neymar showed his finishing was sharpening, especially from close range.

After Saturday’s training Neymar welcomed his girlfriend, actress Bruna Marquezine, and family members to the Granja Comary training ground.

With Brazil players off duty for the rest of the day, Neymar is expected to take some teammates back to his mansion in Mangaratiba, near Rio.

The 20-strong squad will meet again Sunday morning at the Brazilian football confederation headquarters in a visit to their museum.

Players then travel to London hours later and will set up camp until June 8 at Tottenham’s training ground.

Ronaldo hints at exit: “It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid”

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In the minutes after helping Real Madrid win their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo dropped the most unexpected of transfer bombshells on the world.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

With three more seasons remaining on his current contract, Ronaldo appeared to hint that he expects leave the club this summer, at the age of 33.

“It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid,” he told the television broadcast with tears in his eyes, revealing that he will announce his plans for his future “in the coming days.”

Gareth Bale, who scored Saturday’s winning goal, said something quite similar during his post-game remarks.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Perhaps it’s not the most surprising development on the whole, given his age and the obvious need for a youth movement at the Santiago Bernabeu, but to choose that stage — mere moments after winning his fifth career UCL title (four with Madrid) — to tease something so newsworthy and unexpected was certainly eye-opening.

Gareth Bale hints at Premier League transfer

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Gareth Bale jumped off the bench with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Moments later he scored one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals via an outrageous overhead kick, then added another late on to seal a 13th European title for Real.

[ MORE: Mohamed Salah injured ]

Yet speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale’s mind was quickly on why he didn’t start the game as Zinedine Zidane instead went with Isco and Karim Benzema in support of Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

“Obviously I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions,” Bale said. “The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did…

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

Asked about a potential move back to the Premier League, Bale had the following to say.

“I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season. I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it and go from there,” Bale said.

That sound you can hear is the phone of Bale’s agent ringing…

[ MORE: Ronaldo also hints at Real Madrid exit

Seriously, he has every right to question why he wasn’t playing more often and the Welsh international has been in fine form in recent weeks with six goals in his last four games.

Zidane made the right call because Real Madrid won their third-straight European title but it appears that Bale is getting fed up with being the odd man out at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If that was his final game for Real, what a way to go out. Now the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and others will be battling to bring Bale back to the Premier League, with his former club Tottenham said to have first refusal on buying him but surely they’d be unlikely to afford his wages and transfer fee.