An unlikely comeback at the home of their rivals proves that Dortmund can be a team for now and not just for the future, writes DW’s Matt Pearson. But to silence their doubters, they need to go one step further.As the final whistle blew on a pulsating German Cup semifinal that featured sublime skill and outrageous errors in equal measure, Dortmund’s players were mobbed by coaching staff and substitutes insulated against a cold Munich night by their black puffer jackets.
The huddle bounced while a couple of players cut shapes in front of the small corner of the Allianz Arena that was making all the noise. It all looked very much like a cup final celebration.
The men in yellow and black deserved to savor every moment of their joy after overcoming a situation that an hour or so earlier had looked insurmountable. The visitors started Wednesday’s game in an energetic and enterprising fashion and deservedly took an early lead through Marco Reus, the team’s intense pressing rewarded when Javi Martinez was hurried into a backpass so undercooked it’s a wonder the health inspectors weren’t called in.
But then the cracks that have often shown in this young BVB side started to reveal themselves again, as Bayern roared back to regain control and take the lead. Arturo Vidal snapped in to tackles, Thiago schemed and Xabi Alonso sauntered in to pockets of space that enabled him to ping cross-field balls in such a sedate, composed fashion that it was impossible not to question whether he ever needs to retire, let alone at the end of this season. One such ball made the second goal, eventually scored by Mats Hummels, as if Dortmund fans weren’t suffering enough.
It felt like Dortmund’s callow fragility had been exposed once again, just as it had been in this stadium earlier this month. But, after surviving a Bayern onslaught either side of the break, the Ousmane Dembele-inspired visitors took their chances in the second period and booked a trip to Berlin.
Greek center back Sokratis Papastathopoulos told DW that, after the attack on their team bus and the Champions League exit that followed, this was an enormously satisfying and important victory for BVB.
“It’s a very big win because the last two or three weeks were very hard for us and now we have the chance to win one title and we are happy,” he said after the game. “It’s a young team and this is a big experience but now we have to win the final. It’s a big chance we have to win – we are the favorites and I’m happy about this but we have to win in Berlin.”
The refusal to let his team rest on their laurels bodes well for Dortmund, who have struggled for consistency this year after an off-season where they again lost several key men.
A cup win, something they are now heavy favorites to achieve, and Champions League qualification would be considered a success for a club who are so clearly looking to the future, at least in terms of player recruitment and retention. The margins are fine, had Arjen Robben’s shot gone an inch to the left after Roman Bürki’s second half blunder it might’ve been all over. Instead it clipped the woodwork. Those tiny differences between success and failure are something Bayern’s players are only too aware of.
“We set ourselves targets at the start of the season and we’ve not met them,” said David Alaba after the game, just a few days before his side could wrap up a fifth successive Bundesliga title. “That’s a bitter pill to swallow after so many months of hard work for which we’ve not been rewarded.”
For the away fans heading out of the Allianz Arena and in to the Munich night, it’s about time Bayern had to take that kind of medicine. While Dortmund are not yet able to challenge the champions-elect over a season, in Dembele, Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the rest, they’ve got a side that can beat anyone in Europe on their day. And Wednesday was theirs.
As the chant went on the trains back to the center of Munich – Dortmund are going to Berlin.