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May 1, 2013

Bayern lines up CL final with Dortmund

BARCELONA, Spain -- Bayern Munich beat a Barcelona side missing Lionel Messi 3-0 on Wednesday to seal a crushing 7-0 win on aggregate and line up an all-German Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund.

Without its all-time leading scorer, apparently not fit from his right hamstring injury, Barcelona failed to seriously threaten Bayern's goal -- much less an epic comeback after its 4-0 first-leg defeat.

After the visitors had toyed with Barcelona in the first half, Bayern forward Arjen Robben finally opened the scoring in the 49th minute.

Barcelona's Gerard Pique added an own goal in the 72nd and Thomas Mueller headed in Bayern's third goal just four minutes later, as Barcelona slumped to its first home loss in European competition since 2009.

Bayern will face Dortmund in the final on May 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Pique described it as one of his club's "worst nights," adding that even Messi wouldn't have made a difference.

"It isn't pleasant living through a situation like this," Pique said. "In the first half, we really tried but when they scored the first we were left feeling down. We have to congratulate Bayern who were superior.

"The fact that Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, did not play was a factor - but I do not think his participation tonight would have changed things all that much."

While fellow Spanish side Real Madrid won 2-0 on Tuesday to almost reverse a 4-1 first-leg loss to Dortmund, Barcelona didn't even come close and definitely didn't bow out of Europe's top-tier competition gracefully.

Instead, its second stinging defeat to the newly-crowned German champions will surely open a period of reflection in the club, despite being on course to win the Spanish league title. The Catalan side has been seriously outclassed for the first time since a trophy-laden era started in 2008 under the guidance of former coach Pep Guardiola, who will take over as Bayern coach next season.

After these two performances, Guardiola will have a tough time matching the job Jupp Heynckes has done this season.

"When the draw came out and we were paired with Barcelona, I would never have imagined that we would win 4-0 and then 3-0 at the Camp Nou," Heynckes said. "Barcelona is a fantastic team. Today it had personnel problems, when Messi plays it is very different. However, we played a game at a very high level for 90 minutes."

Bayern lost last year's final at home to Chelsea in a penalty shootout. It also reached the 2010 final, but went down 2-0 to Inter Milan.

"I believe any team in the world would have trouble playing us because we are a unified group with clear objectives," Heynckes said. "We have won the league, are in the (German) Cup final, and in the final of the Champions League after we lost last season due to some very bad luck."

Cracks had already appeared in Barcelona's dominance during the round of 16 with a 2-0 loss at AC Milan, before Messi dug down and scored twice to help secure a 4-0 win.

And after this tie, it's clear that the power has shifted away from Camp Nou further east.

"I think it is a terrific performance, it is a little bit of history," Robben said. "If we perform like this, against a team who have dominated Europe for the past five years, who have so much quality, it is amazing."

Besides Messi, Barcelona was also missing Jordi Alba (suspended), Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano to injury. But the glaring truth is that even with several Spanish internationals on the pitch Bayern, was once again the better side.

Bayern destroyed Barcelona in their first meeting last week, looking both the fresher and more imaginative side, while holding Messi in check without much trouble.

And although Messi contributed little in the loss in Germany, nobody had expected him not to start -- given his team's daunting challenge of pulling off a historic comeback.

Since injuring his leg on April 2 against Paris Saint-Germain, Messi's only start had been against Bayern. He had missed three games and come off the bench in two more, including last Saturday's Spanish league game at Athletic Bilbao where he looked to be back in top shape after scoring a superb goal and setting up another in the 2-2 draw.

If coach Tito Vilanova had kept Messi on the bench to spur his other players on, the plan backfired.

Camp Nou was uncharacteristically subdued from the start as if the absence of Messi had robbed the home fans of their last hopes.

Neither side played with the tension expected for a Champions League semifinal; Bayern because it was in command, and Barcelona seemingly lacking in belief.

Needing to score at least four goals to send the game into extra time, Barcelona didn't seriously threaten Bayern's area in the first 45 minutes and was limited to Pedro Rodriguez's rising shot in the 24th to give goalkeeper Manuel Neuer his first save.

Barcelona could muster little else, while Bayern provided a constant threat on the break.

Having failed to complete that last pass in the first 45 minutes, Bayern finally converted just after halftime when Robben received the ball on the right flank, cut back to his left to shake off Adriano, and curled one of his trademark left-footed shots over the outstretched Victor Valdes and into the far side of the net.

Bayern then pressed its advantage and quickly turned a win into humbling of Barcelona.

Pique added to the home side's misery when he kneed Frank Ribery's cross into his own net in an attempt to clear.

Mueller then netted his third goal of the series when Ribery picked him out at the far post to head home his cross over Valdes.

Barcelona had gone undefeated in 21 Champions League home matches since its 2-1 loss to Rubin Kazan on Oct. 20, 2009.

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