Dortmund earns rightful spotlight
Germany 8, Spain 1.
Led by four goals from Polish star Robert Lewandoswki, Borussia comprehensively defeated Real Madrid, leaving the Germans almost assured of a place in the UEFA Champions League final this May at Wembley Stadium. The result is also sure to set off a new round of soul-searching in Spain, a country that was already reeling from Tuesday’s shellacking of Barcelona at Bayern Munich’s hands.
That’s because this week’s performances, taken together, feel like a new era is dawning in European football. Germany, which has boasted the most entertaining and competitive league for the past several seasons, has sent its clubs storming through Europe this season, and Spain is on the decline.
The cauldron of the Champions League has proven that this season: the English were brushed aside, and the French and Italians withered. Germany, by downing three Spanish sides to take that step into the finals, seems to have done enough to assure their bonafides.
Consider that Barcelona, boasting the core of Spain’s World Cup-winning side and the genius of Lionel Messi, was seen as more than a match for Bayern. And while Real Madrid was certainly diminished this season, Dortmund still looked too young a side to handle the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos. In fact, Borussia’s near-disaster against another Spanish side, Malaga, seemed to bear that out.
Instead, Bayern slaughtered Barcelona Tuesday and Madrid fell the following day. Neither Spanish club coped with the speed and vision of their German opponents, and neither team can make excuses.
Real watched Marco Reus slice through Pepe and Rapahel Varane at will. Mario Gotze, soon to be wearing Bayern’s whites, was irrepressible alongside Ilkay Gundogan. And Lewandowski, enjoying arguably the greatest game of his career, was simply unstoppable in front of Madrid’s net.
Lewandowski’s prowess was shown on Wednesday night on his third goal of the evening, a towering shot to the top corner. Set up by a fierce rap through Luka Modric’s legs by Marcel Schmelzer, Lewandowski channeled Ferenc Puskas with a turn and dragback to create space to fire home a right-footed blast that Diego Lopez hadn’t a prayer of saving. It was but one highlight in a game full of them for a man who is said to be on his way to Manchester United. If that is the case, he added several figures to his transfer fee with Wednesday’s performance.
In fact, it could have been far worse for Madrid, who only got on the board due to a momentary lapse in concentration from the home side. Reus had gone down in the box under pressure from Varane and Dortmund were furiously remonstrating with referee Bjorn Kuipers for a penalty not given. Madrid chucked the ball back in on a throw, and Mats Hummels made a grievous error, limply tapping the ball back toward his keeper, Roman Weidenfeller. Gonzalo Higuain latched on to it, crossed to an open Ronaldo and at the break, the game was tied.
It wouldn’t last. Dortmund charged back out, with Lewandowski scoring two goals inside ten minutes after the restart. When a penalty was finally awarded to Dortmund – this time after Reus was plainly muscled down by Xabi Alonso – the game had been won. Lewandowski, of course, sunk the spot-kick anyway.
Where did Madrid go wrong? Everywhere. They couldn’t hold on to the ball or keep up with Dortmund’s attack. Ronaldo was never able to truly into the game, while playmakers Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil, were the standouts on an otherwise lackluster night. There can be no mistaking that this was a case of a good team being beat by a better one. If there is any solace for Jose Mourinho’s charges is that they collected an away goal, and will have at least that faint hope of a comeback at the Santiago Bernabeu in a week’s time.
But it is more likely that we will see an all-German final on May 25, and the renewing of one of Germany’s great rivalries. Dortmund, a team that was broke a decade ago, has undergone a remarkable transformation. They won the league last season behind their crop of talented young swashbucklers and in so doing, but a thumb in Munich’s eye. Stung, Bayern, clawed that Bundesliga title back this year and smashed records in the process.
Both teams play magnetic and expansive football, with Bayern using their two wide players, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, to set up Mario Mandzukic or Mario Gomez. Dortmund used a down-the-gut approach against Real with Reus and Lewandowski playing seamless one-twos. Both teams boast ferocious defenses; both teams have skilled midfield generals in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ilkay Gundogan. And after this weekend, both teams can lay claim to being if not equals, then certainly 1-2 in the world club rankings.