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Familiarity and a little contempt as old foes go toe to toe again

Two grand, regional monarchs of European club football, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, last night provided an absorbing contest in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Karim Benzema wheels away to celebrate after his goal gives Real Madrid a slender lead to take to Germany next week. Picture: Getty Sport
Karim Benzema wheels away to celebrate after his goal gives Real Madrid a slender lead to take to Germany next week. Picture: Getty Sport

It ended 1-0 to the home side.

No other teams have met as often in the history of the competition. This was their 21st encounter, 12 of those games coming in two-legged semi-final ties, with the last occurring as recently as 2012 when Bayern Munich prevailed for the fourth time following of a penalty shoot-out.

Real Madrid's fans swung between grumpiness and, whenever their team surged forward in one of their counter-attacks, delirium. Inevitably, the throatiest jeer of the night was directed at the visiting manager, Pep Guardiola, as the teams were listed over the PA system; remarkably, the former Barcelona coach lost at the Bernabeu for the first time as a manager.

Shrill whistling accompanied the regular passages of play when Bayern retained possession thriftily; the Germans dominated possession by a ratio of almost three to one.

The derision directed towards Howard Webb and his match officials also began when their names were announced before kick off, and continued throughout the match whenever they made a contentious decision.

The worst, most persistent barracking, however, was reserved for Dutch winger Arjen Robben, who spent two seasons in Madrid including a league title-winning campaign in 2007/08. Whenever he did anything conspicuous in the match, his efforts were met with derision, and one final hoot came when he was replaced by Guardiola after 71 minutes.

Robben's team-mate, Toni Kroos, was peerless with his passing, finding a Bayern player with a staggering 117 out of the 120 passes he attempted.

Luka Modric, more so than his midfield sidekick Xabi Alonso, pulled the strings for Real. The little Croat delivered a masterclass in passing and ball control. After a shaky start, the midfielder has come into his own in Madrid, thriving under Carlos Ancelotti's stewardship, in particular.

Time and again, Modric sprayed the ball left and right to useful effect from his midfield berth, and, in one notable moment in the 25th minute, he burst through the middle of Bayern's defence, skipping over a series of tackles, before shifting possession out wide to Karim Benzema with a curling pass with the outside of his left foot. Benzema duly redirected the ball across the goal, serving up a gilt-edged goal chance that was spurned by Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was Benzema - always admired by Guardiola during his time as Barca manager for his qualities as a target man - who put Real ahead after 19 minutes, getting on the end of a quick, sumptuous move by the home side. Having absorbed one of several early Bayern attacks, the home side broke up field after taking advantage of a hole left behind by Rafinha's marauding forward break and criss-crossed the pitch, before Fabio Coentrao clipped a pass to a grateful Benzema at the back post.

The second half passed off like a bruising, middleweight boxing match, with each side trading attack after attack; neither ever letting up, but failing also to land a knockout punch. Bayern came close towards the end when Iker Casillas denied Mario Goetze, a late substitute, with a reflex save.

Gareth Bale entered the fray in the 72nd minute, having been denied a start due to a stomach bug he picked up a few days after scoring a delicious, decisive goal in Spain's Copa del Rey final last week. His contributions last night were negligible, however, with the exception of a cross which very nearly caused Bayern defender Dante to score an own goal in the 82nd minute.

It could be that Bale makes more of an impact in next Tuesday's return match in Germany, which Ancelotti has repeatedly stressed will be the important contest. Munich is not a happy hunting ground for Real, who might yet dwell on several missed chances last night.

The "Kings of Europe", as a giant banner unfurled before kick off at the south-end terrace boldly proclaimed, have only a paltry draw to show in 10 previous visits to Bayern's home ground.

"We have every chance of winning by a two-goal margin at home. I have a good feeling going to Munich," said Philipp Lahm, the Bayern captain, as he assessed last night's defeat.

Ancelotti won the strategic battle of the coaches with the discipline of his defence, epitomised by the intelligent sweeping of Alonso in front of the back four; his side excelling at the swift counter-attacking model introduced during Jose Mourinho's recent, three-year reign at the Bernabeu.

Although Guardiola marched Bayern to a domestic league title in record time in March, he is still prone to over-analysing matches and there was a hint of this trait last night. For all Bayern's possession, the German side lacked a cutting edge.

"It was the game I expected. It's impossible to control their counter-attack for 90 minutes," said the Bayern manager in the post-match press conference, praising Real Madrid's athleticism and its position as "the best counter-attacking team in the world".

The red bank of Bayern fans at the north end of the stadium gamely stood on in the terraces singing long after the final whistle had blown, though. This tie isn't over yet.

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