Mario Gomez, widely considered a failure in his first season with Bayern Munich, continued his resurgence with a last-gasp goal to clinch a 1-0 Champions League win at titleholders Inter on Wednesday.
Bayern, inspired by Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, canceled out Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder to give the German side some revenge for last season’s 2-0 loss to the Italian champions in the final.
Winning coach Louis van Gaal described as “wonderful” a match that suggested his team are close to finding the form that took them to last season’s final and won them a domestic double.
Inter also created plenty of chances in an end-to-end game, but a home defeat in the last-16 first-leg match left their hopes of defending the title hanging by a thread.
“Inter surprised me, they played to win and that is very beautiful,” Van Gaal said. “The whole world has seen a wonderful game and I think both sets of fans could be happy with this game.”
“In last year’s final, Inter attacked less, but got a better result. But that’s football,” he said.
Striker Gomez followed up to score his first Champions League knockout stage goal after Arjen Robben’s shot had been blocked in the last minute.
It was his seventh goal in this season’s competition, level with Inter’s Samuel Eto’o, who was twice denied by Bayern goalkeeper Thomas Kraft and Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka.
Gomez became the Bundesliga’s most expensive signing when he joined Bayern from VfB Stuttgart at the start of last season, but struggled to settle.
He played little part in the team that won the Bundesliga and German Cup double and lost to Inter in the final.
Given his chance after Bayern were plagued by injuries earlier this season, Gomez — the -Bundesliga’s leading scorer with 18 goals — suddenly found his form with four hat-tricks, including one in the Champions League.
Bayern quickly set about neutralizing Sneijder, making their point with two tough tackles on the Dutchman by Luiz Gustavo, but Van Gaal denied his compatriot had been unfairly treated.
“It’s natural that we want stop Sneijder, but I don’t think we committed too many fouls,” he said. “In any case, he’s a master in making the most of things. I think we dealt with the Sneijder problem effectively.”
Sneijder’s frustration showed when he was booked for dissent in the second half.
Luiz Gustavo, who has stepped in for departed captain Mark van Bommel, was twice close to scoring as Bayern dominated the early possession, at one stage stringing more than 40 passes together.
Ribery, whose absence along with Robben earlier in the season was blamed for Bayern’s poor start, also headed against the crossbar.
However, Cameroon striker Eto’o was always a threat and forced a superb save from Thomas Kraft after turning past two opponents.
The many chances in the second half included Robben hitting the post for Bayern and Esteban Cambiasso missing a sitter at the other end after Eto’o’s shot was parried by Kraft.
Sneijder and Eto’o both went close for Inter in the dying seconds before Bayern struck to put themselves in command for the second leg in Munich on March 15.
However, Inter coach Leonardo insisted that his side are still well in this tie.
“I believe and that’s not just me being optimistic, but because of the desire that we showed despite having changed our system, we still played very well,” he said. “There’s very little difference between winning 1-0, drawing 0-0 and losing 1-0.”