Borussia Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski produced the game of a lifetime, scoring four goals for the home side as they handed Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid a harsh 4-1 loss Wednesday evening. A day after Bayern Munich had spanked mighty Barcelona in the other Champions League semifinal, Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund side have proven, after previously unsuccessful forays into European competition the last two seasons, that they have matured to the point that they are only a game away from promised land of the Champions League final.
Dortmund, the only unbeaten club in this year’s Champions League tournament, had already faced the Madristas twice in the group stage, coming away with a win and a draw that helped lift BvB out of their Group of Death and advance into the knockout rounds. As noteworthy as those results were, though, they did little to prepare one for the bullying suffered by Real Madrid Wednesday at the Signal Iduna Park. Like their Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, Dortmund appear to be a team of destiny as both clubs have the momentum and the goals that should seem them into the Champions League final at Wembley Stadium.
With the news that Dortmund’s young star, Mario Götze, had signed with the Bavarian side made public barely 24 hours before Wednesday’s kickoff at Signal Iduna, many wondered how the Sxhwarzgelbe, would react to announced summer departure (some would say betrayal) of a teammate that had been at the club since the age of eight. But those who have been following Dortmund since Klopp’s arrival had little doubt that the Klopp, more about the concept of team than individual, would have his team focused on the task at hand and able to put forth a strong effort. The surprise was that the effort surpassed “strong” and was simply transcendent.
Götze was a starter in Klopp’s starting XI behind Robert Lewandowski up front, with Marco Reus and Jakub Błaszczykowski on the wings. Veteran Roman Weidenfeller, as usual, was the starting keeper with the back four were the usual contingent of Schmelzer, Subotic, Hummels and Piszczek , shielded by Gündogan and Sven Bender, with captain Sebastian Kehl on the bench. Mourinho’s lineup featured Cristiano Ronaldo, the superstar who’d already bagged 11 goals in this year’s CL tournament and has been in glowing form, along with influential German internationals Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil in an eleven that had experienced much more late round Champions League experience than the younger Dortmund side.
The enthusiasm of Dortmund’s home crowd lifted their team, and seven minutes in Reus had already forced a save from Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez. A minute later, Lopez had no chance for a save as a cross from the left by Götze was met by the lunging leg forward of striker Lewandowski, who hit the ball into the net for the game’s opening goal and a quick Dortmund lead. For much of the first half, Dortmund were the better team though Madrid looked sharper and more likely to score than did their fellow La Liga side did Tuesday in Munich.
A flurry of fouls on the right side of Dortmund’s defense led to three Real Madrid free kicks around the midway point of the half, but Weidenfeller saved a curling Ronaldo shot while two Xabi Alonso kicks also did no damage. Both teams were lively, with a Dortmund run by Kuba nullified by Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain before controversy struck. With just minutes remaining in the half, Madrid’s teenaged defender Raphaël Varane appeared to foul Reus in the box. Dortmund calls for a penalty kick were ignored by the referee, and in the ensuing moments Real Madrid made the home team pay for its drop in focus. Defender Mats Hummels misplayed a long ball over his head, his touch leaving the ball right in the path of Higuain, who crossed to Ronaldo, who netted the 50th CL goal of his career. The half ended tied at one goal apiece.
If Dortmund suffered anxiety after Ronaldo’s equalizer, there was no evidence as they returned from intermission as The Robert Lewandowski Show continued.
Five minutes after break, Lewandowski scored his second goal of the match. Following a Reus shot, the lanky Polish international was in the right place at the right time to return Dortmund to the lead with a low shot. Despite the appeals from Real Madrid for an offsides call, replays showed that the striker was indeed onside. Five minutes later, Lewandowski earned his hat trick, as a deflected shot by Marcel Schmelzer arrived. Lewa was able to shuffle brilliantly to create just enough space to deliver a strong shot from close range that left Lopez with no chance. With less than an hour gone, Dortmund were in the driver’s seat on the way to a commanding win over the veteran Madrid squad, with Lewandowski becoming the first player ever to score a hat trick against Real Madrid in their lengthy Champions League history.
In the 67th minute, Lewandowski carved his name into Champions League history with his fourth goal of the match. A penalty call earned by the Reus/Gotze combo from a blatant shoulder push by Alonso on Reus’ back brought Lewandowski to the spot. The 24 year-old slammed a shot past Lopez to push Real Madrid over the edge, trailing the home side 4-1 with just 20-some minutes remaining. Lewandowski almost had a fifth goal, but his dangerous 78th minute effort from distance was tipped to safety by Lopez.
Facing such a deficit with so little time remaining, Real tried to at least catch another goal that would make their second leg task less daunting, but Weidenfeller and the Dortmund defense held steady, with the best opportunity for Real to salvage something coming deep into stoppage time following a CK and a Varane chance that failed to connect. Jubilation accompanied the final whistle.
It is quite timely that the Bundesliga is putting its stamp on world football in the league’s 50th season. Both Bayern Munich yesterday, and Borussia Dortmund today, played and finished so well that a all-German Champions League final looks inevitable.
With the subsequent “discovery” of German football’s worthiness by many, some pundits refer to a ‘new era’ with Germany overtaking Spain as the current number one footballing nation. They speak of ‘cycles’ of national footballing greatness, as if now this is Germany’s turn, following Spain, who followed England as the nation whose clubs were so dominant in the Champions League. But simply explaining away Germany’s obvious rise in the world’s footballing consciousness as some cosmic “it’s your turn now, Germany” is inaccurate if not demeaning.
Germany’s rise, both on the international and club level, is no simple result of cycles or chance. The current success of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League is not merely a magical happening from the birth of “golden generation” of players whose gilded abilities lift a nation’s status. Rather, the upturn in German fortunes can easily explained in terms of financial investment — the mandate from the German football association that all clubs must plow money into academies in order to remain licensed footballing clubs. Whereas clubs in some countries spend and overspend on proven talent from abroad, German clubs put that money into youth developement — not only German kids, but the development of foreign players who join their academies. While there are many more reasons for Germany’s rise (over the last few years, not just suddenly) such as the 50+1 rule, the relationship between clubs and their fans, the training of future coaches and the emphasis on attacking football in academies, along with Germany’s sizable population and relative economic health, if one wants a sound-bite explanation for Germany’s fortunes, putting their money into youth instead of overpaying for veterans with little upside is much closer to the mark.
Meanwhile, what can one say about Dortmund. Despite Bundesliga championships the last two campaigns and a Pokal crown to boot, in many ways this year is even more satisfying. Despite being shut out of the domestic double by Bayern, the chance for Dortmund to shine, and the world to notice, via the Champions League platform, the special work being done by Kloppo and his boys is joyous for German football fans. We Bundesliga fanatics have known for quite a while now what Klopp and Michael Zorc have done in Dortmund, what they’ve created in terms of not only accomplishment but, exciting, flowing play. teamwork, and developing wondrous talents. The discouraging results the last two seasons in Europe have left the rest of the footballing world less impressed. Now they know, what we’ve known…. and ain’t it grand!!!
Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Subotic, Hummels, Piszczek (Großkreutz 83′), Schmelzer – Bender, Błaszczykowski, Gündogan (Schieber 90′) – Götze, Reus, Błaszczykowski (Kehl 82′) – Lewandowski.
Real Madrid: Diego Lopez, Varane, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrão, Khedira, Özil, Alonso (Kaka 80′), Modrić (Di Maria 68′), Ronaldo, Higuaín (Benzema 68′).
Header courtesy of bvb.de/facebook