Bayern handed the chance to end Barcelona's reign

The Catalan club has been the strongest side in Europe over the last five years, but the balance of power may be about to shift towards Bavaria as the teams meet in the semifinals
It was a tie which neither side would have wanted, but one that could define everything. Barcelona and Bayern Munich were paired together in the semifinals of the Champions League following Friday's draw in Nyon, Switzerland. At stake is much, much more than just a place in the Wembley showpiece final next month.

Barcelona has been the dominant force in Europe for the greater part of the last decade. Semifinalists for the last six years, winners in 2009 and 2011 (as well as 2006), hailed as the greatest side in history by many and hitting huge heights under Pep Guardiola, the Catalans remain the team to beat, the best footballing side there is.

Yet there has been something of a decline since the departure of Guardiola, with Carles Puyol plagued with injuries, Xavi slowing down and problems on the bench in the absence of Tito Vilanova during his treatment for cancer. Even Lionel Messi has been injured.Pep is Bayern-bound, and without him this term, Barca has struggled in both knockout rounds ahead of their forthcoming semifinal meeting with Bayern. In it, the Bavarians, buoyed by securing the Catalan coach for next season and storming to the Bundesliga title with six games remaining, will sense the opportunity to knock the Blaugrana off their perch and begin their own era of continental control.

Bayern reached the final last season under Jupp Heynckes, but surprisingly lost out to Chelsea. The Munich side, then coached by Louis van Gaal, also finished as runners-up to Jose Mourinho's Inter in the 2010 showpiece in Madrid. The thinking behind Guardiola's appointment is clearly to get the best out a golden generation of players who have slightly underachieved at the very highest level.

In many ways, Bayern mirrors Barca. The Bavarians boast an exciting youth academy, a strong national core and something of a similar footballing philosophy. The club combines an ideal blend of youth and experience, is in excellent shape financially and completely wiped out an excellent Juventus side in the quarterfinals. And with Guardiola set to arrive in the summer, everything seems in place to make Bayern Europe's best.

In the meantime, however, question marks remain over the mental strength of a side that has failed to win as much as it should have in recent years.

Those questions can be answered now. Bayern has responded in style in the Bundesliga after missing out on the last two domestic titles to fellow Champions League semifinalists Borussia Dortmund, and it can also win the German cup to complete the treble with the continental triumph.

But the game against Barca represents their biggest test. Win it and Bayern could usher in an era of dominance on the continent similar to the one enjoyed by the Catalans in recent seasons. Lose out and the Blaugrana will remain Europe's dominant force - at least for another year. 

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