Inter celebrate as Van Gaal eyes exit
Goran Pandev's late winner at the Allianz Arena proved why Inter Milan are champions of Europe - but the implications for Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal could be far greater than just a high-profile defeat.
Portrayed as a lame duck by the German media, the Champions League provided Van Gaal with his only route to silverware and, now that dream has been dashed, the Dutchman's position is becoming increasingly untenable. His planned end of season departure may well be brought forward.
An incredible night in Munich saw a sumptuous game of football swing one way, then the other, and then back again in favour of an Inter side written off at various points this season.
It was Pandev who ripped off his shirt and raced towards head coach Leonardo to celebrate his 89th minute winner - and first ever Champions League goal - but the real star of the show was Wesley Sneijder.
The No. 10 made up for an anonymous first 45 minutes (135 if you count his negligible contribution at the San Siro), to become Inter's saviour with the kind of performance that inspired Inter to glory last year.
Covering every blade of grass in an sensational second-half display, Sneijder orchestrated an unlikely turnaround and scored Inter's crucial second goal, dragging the Nerrazurri kicking and screaming into the last eight.
That pivotal moment from Inter's playmaker swung the game back into the reigning champions' favour after goals from Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller had given Bayern a 2-1 lead and cancelled out Samuel Eto'o brilliant opener.
The eventual turnaround by Inter, while unexpected for the majority of the two legs, was ultimately deserved.
Eto'o, who has scored or assisted all but two of Inter's 13 goals in the competition this season, was too hot for Bayern to handle and Esteban Cambiasso - whose contribution often goes uncredited - was resolute alongside Thiago Motta throughout both legs.
Julio Cesar, who decided to walk home from the San Siro after his howler gifted Gomez his winner, may have been forced to hitch a ride home by his team-mates had Pandev not got them out of the dog house, as another blunder had allowed Gomez to score once again in Germany.
But moments like these will be forgotten now that Inter are one step closer to Wembley.
This season's Champions League has seen fearless football rewarded in the shape of Barcelona and Tottenham and, while Bayern remain one of the most exciting attacking teams on the continent, their inability to kill off this match has cost Van Gaal dear.
When the score was 2-1 in favour of Bayern, Muller, Gomez and Franck Ribery were all guilty of glaring misses, before the Germans were ambushed in brutal style.
As Leonardo dusted himself off after being mobbed by his players, a show of solidarity rarely seen under the previous management, his opposite number Van Gaal applauded the home support as he trudged towards the tunnel. Perhaps for the last time.
Van Gaal's abrasive style of management may not have made him the most popular man at Bayern, but his record prior to this season was difficult to query given that he was within touching distance of the Treble last season.
But pressure had been mounting on Van Gaal for some time following criticism of his autocratic approach. Former Bayern stars Luca Toni, Mark van Bommel and Lucio were less than complimentary about the coach before their respective departures.
Indeed, Toni was particularly unimpressed with the Dutchman's methods of man management.
"Van Gaal simply didn't want to work with me, he treats players like interchangeable objects," said the Italian following his return to Serie A with Genoa. "The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player because, as he said, he had the balls. He demonstrated this literally. I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy."
Van Gaal's unorthodox behaviour was also called into question by Ribery, who has not always seen eye-to-eye with his boss. The Frenchman said last week that he is playing with more freedom now that he knows the former Ajax and Barcelona boss is on his way.
But the decision to sack Van Gaal in slow-motion could become a farce if Bayern president Uli Hoeness fails to bring some much-needed stability to a club in danger of missing out on next season's Champions League.
The palatial setting of the Allianz Arena will host next year's final, but there is a very real chance that Bayern will be contesting the Europa League instead.
Van Gaal recently said that he wanted to leave the club with dignity and honour and, having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, the pressure on him may see him walk before the end of the season.