FOX Soccer Exclusive
Dortmund earns well-deserved ticket
The Santiago Bernabeu has seen many dramatic nights in its 65 year history, but few as dramatic of Tuesday night’s Champions League semifinal second leg when Borussia Dortmund held off an inspired late charge from Real Madrid. Dortmund lost 2-0 on the night but progressed 4-3 on aggregate in a match which had it all.
“The whole game was such a crazy game from the first second,” said an emotional Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp afterwards. “It is unbelievable. I am so proud of my team.”
A supremely composed performance was seeing Borussia Dortmund through serenely 4-1 to the final, until Karim Benzema and then Sergio Ramos almost raised the roof of the stately old ground with late goals for Madrid. The home team piled forward in search of another, which would send them to Wembley Stadium.
Sadly for Real Madrid fans, it was not to be.
“This is a difficult competition,” a downbeat Jose Mourinho told reporters after the match. “We missed too many chances. The Bernabeu has been fantastic, the fans believed until the end but we did not make it."
The pregame narratives were clear - while Madrid’s media friends were cranking up the historic “remontada” comeback hype, Klopp was trying to keep his young German side - three goals ahead from last week’s first leg - from losing their focus.
The noise inside the stadium was almost deafening at kickoff, with home fans chanting “Yes we can” which has been adopted both by Spanish political protesters and football fans. And Madrid began as if inspired, snapping into tackles and with surprise selection Luka Modric helping them move the ball through midfield more smoothly than last week.
Dortmund looked rattled, as Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil, Ramos, Angel di Maria and especially Cristiano Ronaldo all had chances for a vital early goal. But a mixture of poor finishing and two excellent stops from visiting keeper Roman Weidenfeller kept the game scoreless.
“We began very strong, with good intensity and moving the ball around very well,” a downbeat Mourinho said. “The more quickly you can score the first goal, the better your hopes to progress.”
With the early storm weathered and Dortmund’s three goal advantage still intact, Klopp’s young side settled in impressively at the Bernabeu. Mats Hummels was intelligently reading the play in defense and Marco Reus showing clever touches in attack.
By the half-hour mark, Madrid already looked frustrated. Ronaldo miscontrolled a Xabi Alonso pass, then turned to blame his teammate for his own poor touch. Just before the break the Portuguese hammered a long range free kick badly high and wide. The “Yes we can” chants were muted as the teams went in for their halftime team talks.
Madrid again started the second period with a short spell of pressure but it soon petered out, with Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski missing two good chances to put his side out of sight. At the other end a bad touch by Higuain lead to groans from the crowd and forced Mourinho to act.
Higuain and and left back Fabio Coentrao were replaced by two attackers in Kaka and Karim Benzema. It still made little difference thought. The players’ evident frustration saw Alonso pushing at Lewandowski, a few minutes after Ramos had flattened the Pole with a flying challenge.
The more Madrid tried desperately for a goal, the more gaps they left at the back. The move of the game saw Reus slide the ball across goal to an unmarked Ilkay Gundogan whose shot was brilliantly saved by Madrid keeper Diego Lopez on the spot.
With Alonso taken out of his misery, only Modric kept pushing Madrid forward. A through-ball towards Benzema struck Hummels’ hand but referee Howard Webb waved play on, a decision Mourinho did not agree with.
But with just eight minutes left, Benzema converted Ozil’s low cross and the “Yes we cans” got a final airing. Was there time for a remarkable comeback? You bet. After Dortmund keeper Weidenfeller saved twice during the last five minutes of regulation, Ramos kept his cool and hammered into roof of the net. Now there was real belief with the Real Madrid faithful. “It is a pity we did not score earlier,” said Mourinho.
Five minutes of added time and fans sucked the ball towards Weidenfeller’s goal. After a corner for Madrid, Blancos goalkeeper Diego Lopez joined the attack and distracted the Germans, but Ramos header bounced wide. It was too late, as Webb would later blow the final whistle.
At the final whistle, both sets of players flopped exhausted to the turf and both sets of fans rose to their feet in the stands. With their final sets of attacks, Madrid had saved their pride. Dortmund, on the other hand, were through to the May 17 final at Wembley Stadium.
"It was a bit dramatic in the end, despite having a lot of counter-attacks that led to opportunities to take the lead," said Klopp. “We have ourselves to blame for allowing Real back into the game, as we missed a couple of sitters. However, Dortmund apparently is an all-inclusive club, so we always make things exciting, one way or the other.
"They (Real) had a lot to make up for after the first leg but we deserved to go through on aggregate. We deserve to be in the Champions League final."
Crazy? Yes. Unbelievable? Almost. Deserved? Without a doubt.
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