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Buoyant Bayern ready for Olympique task
Two more games, and Bayern could be contesting the Champions League final in Madrid. Buoyed by Saturday’s goalfest against Hannover, and “full of adrenalin,” according to Philipp Lahm, FCB now take on Olympique Lyon in the semi-finals. “It's the best thing that could have happened. We were already confident, but winning 7-0 just increases it,” said Louis Van Gaal. “Hannover play the same system as Lyon, so it was good practice.”

A real sense of anticipation has gripped Munich. A 66,000 full house will pack the Allianz Arena, but the club fielded 300,000 requests for tickets. The city and the fans are keenly awaiting Italian referee Roberto Rosetti’s whistle to get the game underway. “We’re looking forward to the match and the atmosphere at the Allianz Arena, which has been sensational recently,” said Lahm, “I can hardly wait for it to start.”

Chairman Karl Heinz Rummenigge reckons FCB have a “50-50” chance of making the final. A win at home would arguably increase that chance, although Van Gaal insisted a goalless draw would also be a good result. “0-0 or 1-0 is better than 2-1. It sounds strange, but it’s how I see it, because we’ve always scored away from home,” the coach stated. Whatever else happens, the 58-year-old would rather his side kept a clean sheet.

Van Gaal feels Bayern’s best attacking chance is down the flanks. “It’s the biggest problem for our opponents. We don’t just have Robben, we also have Ribéry,” said the head coach, who was absent from Tuesday’s final pre-match training session due to a family bereavement. Assistant coach Andries Jonker texted the boss at the end of the session with the news that all the players are fit, including Ribéry, who sat out training for two days with a strain. “He completed the session,” Jonker reported.

Ribery increasingly influential

On Monday, Van Gaal specifically praised the France star’s improved form as he slowly but steadily recovers from injury. “He’s improving with every game and his contributions are always decisive, with goals and assists. And he’s not just attacking, he’s getting through his defensive work too. He’s increasingly fit.” Lahm shared the coach’s opinion: “Lyon will be full of respect for our forward line.”

Wednesday’s visitors will field a makeshift defence due to injury, but the only men ruled out for FCB are suspended duo Holger Badstuber and Mark van Bommel. Van Gaal agreed that the captain’s absence was “a loss to the team,” but expressed confidence in the men expected to stand in. Diego Contento is likely to replace Badstuber, with Danijel Pranjic set to deputise for Van Bommel. The left-sided Croat filled in for Bastian Schweinsteiger in the quarter-final home meeting with Manchester United, and is now the prime candidate to play alongside the Germany international as a second holding midfielder.

Lyon pose threat on the break

“We face two tough matches. Lyon are a different calibre compared to Hannover,” warned Rummenigge. “The previous match in the Bundesliga counts for nothing now. This is a completely different competition,” agreed Lahm, although the full-back made no secret of his confidence: “The last few weeks have shown we’re in good shape, and we emphasised that at the weekend.”

Nevertheless, the FCB camp is highly respectful of Lyon, who eliminated Liverpool at the group stage and Real Madrid in the Round of 16. The former serial Ligue 1 champions won their domestic title seven times in a row from 2002 to 2008, and Van Gaal has had OL watched on a number of occasions. “They’re physically very strong and aggressive. They play as a team ,and they have quick players for counter-attacks,” the coach commented. “So we’ve been warned,” remarked defender Daniel van Buyten.

Two more games, and Bayern could be contesting the Champions League final in Madrid! “It’ll be hard, but we know we’re on form,” said Lahm. Ivica Olic delivered the final promise: “We’re ready.”
 
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