MUNICH - Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola is now backing his former club Barcelona to win the Champions League after his Bavarian giants bowed out 5-3 on aggregate in the semi-finals.
Guardiola's Bayern exited at the last-four stage for the second year running, despite ending Barcelona's 18-game unbeaten run with a 3-2 semi-final, second-leg win in Munich.
Bayern were given an early glimmer of hope in their bid to overturn a three-goal deficit in Munich, when the unmarked Medhi Benatia headed home on seven minutes at the Allianz Arena.
But Barca effectively booked their place in the Berlin final on June 6, when Luis Suarez set up Neymar twice to score for the visitors before half an hour had been played.
Bayern produced a rousing second-half performance with goals by Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller, but Barcelona advance to face either bitter rivals Real Madrid or Juventus in the final.
Having won 16 titles as a player, then a further 14 in four years as head coach at Camp Nou, Guardiola is backing Barcelona to claim their first European crown since 2011.
"I want to congratulate my players. I am really happy to be their manager on a day like today," said Guardiola, as Bayern denied Barcelona a first win in Munich at the fifth attempt.
"But I hope Barcelona can now win their fifth Champions League title in Berlin.
"You can only beat Barcelona when you take the ball away from them; with it, they are so strong.
"We didn't make the most of our chances in the first leg, but here we did.
"It wasn't enough at the end of the day, but there you go.
"I hope the Spanish League has the rights to be screened in Germany soon, so that fans here can appreciate what a good player Lionel Messi is on a regular basis.
"He was a pleasure to coach when I was at Barcelona and he has demonstrated yet again what he can do."
Messi's role on Tuesday was less of an executioner and more of an orchestrator as he fell deeper, allowing Neymar and Suarez to receive his pin-point passes.
But, it still left Guardiola hailing the Argentinian as the best player ever.
"He is the best player of all time," Guardiola said. "I compare him with Pele. I am so happy to see this football."
The win over Barcelona ended Bayern's four-match losing streak since winning the German league title for the 25th time a fortnight ago.
"We won four titles last season. This year we have just one, but it has been a tough season with lots of injuries and despite that, my players still attacked at every opportunity," enthused Guardiola.
The victory allowed Luis Enrique's men to keep their treble dreams alive as they close in on winning the Spanish league and face Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Cup final on May 30.
"We are where we want to be each year, one step from winning everything, and we'll try to take that step," Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta told RTVE television.
"We can't stop now, we can't be satisfied with what we have achieved already, because in the end, the titles are what count and it would be incredible for the fans and the team."