Brilliant Bayern batters Barcelona
Redemption is within grasp -- and for Bayern Munich the opportunity to exorcise the demons of yesteryear is in sight.
Tuesday's crushing victory over a Barcelona side which has dominated Europe's top competition for much of the past few years was yet another sign of the growing power of this Bavarian giant.
Last year's defeat by Chelsea at its home stadium still hurts, as does the memory of losing out to Inter Milan two years ago, but that pain and anguish has driven Bayern to the brink of history.
Not since 2001 has Bayern won Europe's elite competition, but surely this is the greatest chance they will ever have to end that drought after brushing aside a Barcelona team which has won this competition three times in the past seven years.
The German league title has already been wrapped up, while the domestic cup looks set to follow given the team's astonishing run of form.
That form was underlined with a display full of pace, power and vigor which blew Barcelona away with ease.
Read: Goetze set to join Bayern Munich
On the day it announced the signing of Borussia Dortmund's star playmaker Mario Goetze in a deal worth an estimated $48 million, Bayern showed they have quality in abundance.
Thomas Muller scored twice and further strikes from Mario Gomez and the outstanding Arjen Robben dismantled a Barcelona side currently 13 points clear at the top of La Liga.
"Of course, we're all very happy about the win, especially the size of the margin," Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes told reporters.
"We were first class," he said. "But we know we still have 90 minutes ahead of us in Spain.
"We want to enjoy tonight, but nothing more."
Read: Bayern brimming with confidence
Heynckes had bristled at suggestions he should seek advice from his successor in waiting, Pep Guardiola, for ideas of how to defeat the Catalan giant.
Guardiola, who will replace Heynckes at the end of the season, enjoyed huge success at Camp Nou, winning two Champions League titles and three league crowns before he departed in April 2012.
But it is Guardiola who may be asking for advice after watching Bayern ruthlessly destroy the team which he had built with such love and devotion.
Bayern, fresh from hammering Hanover 6-1 in the Bundesliga at the weekend, made a rapid start and should have forged ahead within the first three minutes.
Robben exchanged passes with Spain midfielder Javi Martinez before stealing in behind the Barcelona defense, but he could only fire his effort straight at Victor Valdes.
The Catalan side, playing in its sixth successive semifinal, appeared rattled by Bayern's approach and was fortunate not concede a penalty when Gerard Pique clearly handled Philipp Lahm's strike inside the penalty area.
But any sense of injustice soon disappeared as Bayern took a deserved lead with 25 minutes on the clock.
Robben was the architect, picking out Dante at the far post with looping cross to head the ball towards goal and allow Muller to nod the ball home.
Read: Spanish giants kept apart
Not since October 2008 had Barcelona won a Champions League match away from home when trailing at halftime and they never liked look repeating the feat here.
Barcelona's talisman Leo Messi, clearly struggling with injury, rarely looked like troubling the Bayern defenders, while Barcelona struggled to deal with the German side's superior ability at set pieces.
And it was no surprise that within four minutes of the restart Bayern had extended its lead to assume complete control of the tie.
Once again it was the home side's aerial prowess which caused Barcelona problems as Muller headed the ball across goal for Gomez to volley home.
Replays showed Gomez to have been in an offside position and while the visiting side may have had every right to feel aggrieved, it was nothing to what was to transpire with 17 minutes remaining.
Robben, a constant menace all night, was the man at the heart of the action, racing towards goal as Barcelona began to back off.
The Dutch winger looked to have beaten Alba, but his case was quite clearly helped by Muller bundling the defender to the ground.
While the visiting team stopped in anticipation of the referee's whistle, Robben continued his run and lashed the ball into the far corner before turning away to celebrate.
Read: Bayern humiliate Hamburg
Quite how the foul was missed by the referee and the extra officials behind the goal is extraordinary, but that scarcely mattered to a rampant Bayern.
Muller almost added a fourth when he raced clear only to be denied by a fine block by Valdes as Barcelona began to crumble.
Bayern's surpremacy was emphasized further two minutes later when David Alaba rampaged down the left and picked out Muller to flick the ball home.
"I think we knew we were able to give them good competition," Robben told ITV following his side's impressive showing.
"I think everybody said before it was a 50-50 game.
"We can be very proud, this team (Barcelona) has dominated Europe over the last five years and if you beat them like this in such terrific way I think you can be proud.
"But on the other hand, let's be quiet, enjoy this evening but not anymore, because there's still the second game to play and we have to be ready."
Barcelona now faces an "almost impossible" task to make the final and defender Pique admits his team was completely outplayed.
He told television channel TV3: "There's not much you can say, they've been faster, stronger and played the better football.
"We mustn't talk about the referee; I don't think he had any influence.
"It's almost impossible for us. They've been better than us, we need to congratulate them and show our best in the return leg, while thinking about finishing the league as soon as possible.
"We are Barca. We must go out at the Nou Camp to win the game for our fans."