Bayern Munich suffer referee errors but Real Madrid class decisive in UCL
Bayern Munich have never been the best of losers. Some might say their almost pathological intolerance to defeat is one of the reasons they tend to win so much.
Their self-conception as winners, their sense of entitlement, is so pronounced that the instinct after dramatic disappointments in the past has often been to focus on their own unforgivable mistakes and flaws rather than to accept the superiority of others. Brutal purges of managers, players or sporting directors deemed not good enough have usually followed.
On Tuesday night, however, culpability was found elsewhere. While centre-back Mats Hummels merely hinted at factors "beyond our control," Executive Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was much more blunt.
"For the first time, I feel this mad anger inside of me," the 61-year-old told the players and VIP guests at the midnight banquet in the team hotel.
"We've been cheated. We've been cheated, in the true sense of the word."
By whom? It didn't need spelling out. Referee Viktor Kassai had prevented Bayern finding just reward for their heroic performance at the Bernabeu by awarding two offside goals for Real Madrid and "a second yellow that wasn't a yellow for [Arturo] Vidal," Rummenigge alleged.
The audience applauded. They felt he had hit the nail on the head: Brave Bayern, undefeated on the field of battle, were knifed in the back by the man in the middle.
It's a familiar line in football, but you rarely hear it from the elite teams, mostly from those below. The clubs who dominate are also top of the food chain when it comes to refereeing mistakes. They tend to get the breaks. Many football fans in Germany, for example, believe Bayern get preferential treatment. Systematic bias is hard to prove but it would be strange if the combination of status (and the subtle pressure that comes with it), home advantage (the best teams play at the biggest grounds) and the simple mechanics of the game would not have a discernible effect on refereeing.
Even if the referee is 100 percent neutral and blows his every whistle with utmost integrity, both sides will not have the exact same chance to benefit from dubious or plain wrong decisions. They can't have. Bigger/better teams attack more. They create more tricky situations in the opposition box and more marginal offside decisions that can go in their favour. Lesser opponents are forced to foul them more often and are thus in bigger danger of having a man sent off. The good teams are not luckier in the strict sense of the word. They simply get to flip the coin more often. Bad luck, conversely, hurts them less because they have the means to keep on trying. "Coincidence is logical," Johan Cruyff once said.
When two evenly matched teams come up against each other, as happens in the latter stages of the Champions League, the number of coin flips is more even. The impact of luck -- in the form of favourable decisions -- becomes magnified. But as much as Bayern had a right to feel aggrieved on Tuesday, it would be wrong to pretend that everything went against them over the course of the two legs.
Both penalties they won were soft or borderline dubious. Sergio Ramos' own goal was preceded by offside, not given. Vidal was extremely lucky to have escaped a quicker dismissal after his second foul in the 48th minute. The tackle punished by Kassai five minutes from the end was not as cleanly executed as it looked at first sight either. Replays show the Chilean lifted his foot to make sure he connected with Marco Asensio after playing the ball. A harsh decision, granted, but not a scandalous one.
Once you add up the other things that went for Madrid on the night -- Casemiro staying on the pitch, another wrong offside call on Robert Lewandowski -- Zinedine Zidane's team did get lucky. But when the dust settles and Bayern will look at their elimination in a colder light, they will probably admit that Madrid did more to get lucky, too. Bayern were thoroughly outplayed in the second half at the Allianz Arena through no fault but their own and extremely lucky to escape with only a 2-1 deficit. In the Spanish capital, too, Madrid had the better individuals in the starting XI and on the bench, more clear-cut chances and just that extra bit of street-smartness and ability to manage the tie.
The Bayern bosses will continue to blame Kassai in public over the course of the next days, but an internal, honest inquest into their worst Champions League campaign since 2011 will start soon, too. It will uncover problems and shortcomings -- in performances, players' qualities and Carlo Ancelotti's coaching -- that had little to do with an assistant referee getting his angles wrong.
The Bavarians will think long and hard about the necessary enhancements. For as much as they hate being on the wrong end of an official's decision, they hate themselves for having been in that position in the first place even more.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert. Follow: @honigstein