German international Mario Gomez fired Bayern Munich into the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League, netting a hat-trick during a 4-0 Group E dismantling of Romania's CFR Cluj.
Despite an injury crisis that deprived Bayern coach Louis van Gaal of Dutch star Arjen Robben and French midfielder Franck Ribery among others, last season's runners-up never looked in danger against a defensively frail Cluj. With four wins of out four in the competition, Bayern sauntered into the knockout phase, leaving Cluj, AS Roma and FC Basel to battle it out for the second spot.
"Four-nil in the Champions League is a superb result," said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm. "After we took the lead early in the first half, it was relatively easy."
After a cagey start, in which both teams seemed to be feeling each other out, Gomez broke the deadlock in the 12th minute. German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger slotted the ball across the face of goal and Andreas Ottl saw his shot parried into the path of the 25-year-old Gomez, who tapped in his second Champions League goal this season.
Twelve minutes later, Bayern doubled their advantage, Schweinsteiger heading down a pinpoint cross from the right into the path of the predatory Gomez, who again tapped in from close range. The Romanians showed some fighting spirit and nearly hit back immediately, with Italian striker Roberto de Zerbi forcing a save from Joerg Butt when he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. After this scare, however, Bayern seemed content to play possession football until the interval, driving the hosts to defend ever deeper and allowing them precious few attacking chances.
After the break, Cluj enjoyed a brief period of dominance, forcing Belgian international defender Daniel van Buyten to clear off the line after his own defensive error. Shortly afterwards, Cluj's Argentina midfielder Juan Culio forced a magnificent fingertip save from Butt and the Romanians hit the post from the resulting corner. But it was Gomez again who finally broke the Romanians' spirit, latching onto a through ball from Schweinsteiger to register his first Champions League hat-trick after 71 minutes. Thomas Mueller put the icing on the cake with a 90th minute tap-in.
The win was a welcome relief from Bayern's domestic difficulties which has seen the club make its worst start to a Bundesliga campaign in living memory. With three losses so far this season, the 22-time champions find themselves seventh in the Bundesliga table, ten points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund.