Drama drips in Dortmund as favorites advance in Champions League
What a night of Champions League action. A night that provided us with the semifinalists our heads told us to expect -- Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund -- as well as the kind of thrilling narrative that our hearts hoped might be possible.
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Malaga (3-2 aggregate)
As Malaga have carved their course through this, their debut Champions League campaign, those left in their wake have questioned themselves. In the group stage, having seen his side lose 3-0 to Manuel Pellegrini's team, Luciano Spalletti wondered if Zenit St. Petersburg was "fully ready to play in the UEFA Champions League yet." Anderlecht coach John van den Brom concluded that his side was "still far, far away from reaching the top level" after being beaten by the same scoreline. The press box was readying for Jurgen Klopp's take on a 2-1 defeat to Malaga when two injury-time strikes rescued Dortmund.
"Strikes" is arguably too fine a word for the goals bundled over the line, one that could at several points have been whistled for offside, after the 90th minute, but Klopp will care little about that. Just as in a scoreless first-leg draw in Spain, it had taken several superb saves by goalkeeper Willy Caballero to tilt things in Malaga's favor; the stopped efforts by Marco Reus and Mario Gotze had the finesse, but Santana, stabbing at the ball from inches out and with seconds left, had the finish.
The noise inside the Westfalenstadion, the sense of occasion, was every bit as hair-raising as promised, but Malaga refused to be cowed by it. Robert Lewandowski prowled around the visiting defense, halted only by the offside flag and stretching defensive headers before sending a 16th-minute chip over the goalkeeper and the bar, but Malaga was unruffled. In fact, it looked assured. Julio Baptista's knockdown was a little aimless and ought to have been snaffled up by a Dortmund defender, but instead Joaquin and Isco exchanged a couple of short passes before Joaquin wriggled away from Marcel Schmelzer and sent a low shot inside Roman Weidenfeller's post to score Malaga's fifth goal from outside the area in this competition. Malaga, a club banned from European competition next year due to unpaid bills, had the 1-0 lead in the 25th minute, and a spot in the semifinals unless Dortmund could score twice.
Much had been supposed to rest on how Malaga coped without Manuel Iturra, suspended after collecting a booking in the first leg, in central midfield. Instead it was Dortmund's midfield that wrestled in vain in the game's key battleground, IIlkay Gundogan and Sven Bender struggling to get the ball forward. Dortmund's first goal came from the right after Vitorino Antunes was robbed of possession on the halfway line, Gotze centring the ball to Reus, who pulled off a delightful back-heel flick with his first touch to turn it to Lewandoswki, who pulled off his own moment of delight when lifting the ball delicately over Caballero before stroking the ball home. It went to the half at 1-1, Dortmund still needing to pull ahead.
The home side had its guests under pressure throughout the second half, but a skewed shot from Gotze and those Caballero saves conspired to draw the breath out of the crowd's lungs. The script did not seem quite written -- Weidenfeller punched clear a fierce Jeremy Toulalan shot and Schmelzer's toes sent a Duda shot away from goal -- but Klopp's side had not found the magic to break Malaga's tight lines. When in the 82nd minute Eliseu touched Baptista's center into the net from close range to add a second for Malaga -- meaning that Dortmund would have to score two to progress -- the headlines were certainly being laid out.
Dortmund, however, had not tasted defeat at home in the Champions League this season. Klopp had said that success depended on the difference between feeling the pressure and sensing the opportunity, and when Reus turned the ball in in the first minute of injury time, opportunity knocked loudly. Santana heard it and closed the door on the fairytale of the quarterfinals seconds later. The only unbeaten team in the competition goes on, and the sense that this may be the year for a German team will not go away.
"We got the goal and we made it," Klopp said. "It is unbelievable what happens in this stadium. Crazy.
"In the dressing room my assistants and me were looking at each other in shock. We are in the semifinal! Nobody could believe who knew us a few years ago. It's really crazy, but one of the best things I have ever felt." His team would not win the competition playing as they had done tonight, he said -- "our worst game in the Champions League" -- but Dortmund's passion would make it difficult to beat in the final four.
For Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini, who got so close to matching his success with Villarreal, also Champions League debutant when it reached the semifinal in 2006, the end of the match was shaped by the refereeing after Malaga took the lead. Or rather, the lack of it.
"In the last seven minutes there was no officiating," he said, though each side had a goal allowed that ought to have been chalked off for offside. Malaga's owner, Abdullah El Thani, took to Twitter to complain about the result, accusing the officials of racism and demanding a UEFA investigation. "I'm sorry to go out this way injustice and racism," he wrote. It is a sad way to close what has been a memorable campaign for Malaga.
Galatasaray 3-2 Real Madrid (3-5 aggregate)
Jose Mourinho seemed only to be exercising diplomacy when he told reporters that the three-goal lead his team took to Istanbul did not mean that the tie was over. Galatasaray had yet to score more than one goal in all of its home games in the Champions League this season, while his side had not failed to score away.
"If we score a goal they have to score five, but in football I have seen so many incredible things that nothing can surprise me," he said. "The history of football is full of miracles. Why can't they dream?"
To which the answer is typically: "Ronaldo. Cristiano Ronaldo!" It took all of seven minutes for No. 7 to increase Real's lead to four, sweeping home from close range after Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira had taken advantage of all sorts of space on Galatasaray's left side to supply the opportunity. That took Ronaldo to 47 goals in 47 matches, and a 10th in the Champions League this season.
For much of the first half it seemed that Diego Lopez's promise that Real would not simply turn up and sit on its lead was hardly necessary; Madrid comfortably controlled proceedings and would have made it five on aggregate just after 20 minutes, but for the swipe of goalie Fernando Muslera's left arm forcing Angel di Maria's outside-of-the-boot effort away from the top corner. Ronaldo laid the chance on for Di Maria with a casual back heel from the edge of the area, having caressed Luka Modric's pass into position. It seemed a night for such luxuries, but perhaps Mourinho had foreseen something we had not, after all.
There still did not seem much to worry about for Madrid even when Ronaldo's miss from six yards out, early in the second half, was quickly followed by a stunning goal from Galatasaray defender Emmanuel Eboue, who rifled the ball into the top corner from the tip of the penalty area. When Wesley Sneijder missed a sitter of his own, somehow managing to send Didier Drogba's square ball away from the goal that yawned in front of him, TV viewers must have switched in their droves from this match to the one still teetering at 1-1 in west Germany.
Those who stayed were rewarded with a second half of unexpected entertainment, even if the tension was not quite enough to force the pulse into truly dangerous territory. Galatasaray took the lead on the night with a finely struck Sneijder goal, immediately seeing off any existential fretting that might have started to creep into the Dutchman's game, and very quickly made the score 3-1 (3-4 on aggregate) thanks to Drogba's backheel. Sabri Sarioglu set up the goal and another about 15 minutes later, but Drogba was correctly ruled offside. Madrid strove to slow the game down and in added time struck swiftly to see off any last-second turnarounds with Ronaldo's 11th goal of this Champions League campaign.
A heart-pounding night produced one German and one Spanish semifinalist. Wednesday may provide the same if Bayern Munich and Barcelona come through, which would produce a final four of perhaps the best clubs in Europe.
Mourinho visited the home dressing room after the match to congratulate Galatasaray, according to his counterpart, Fatih Terim. "I'm happy for Galatasaray," he told reporters, "going out like this is great and it is a satisfaction for them. They did not play with 11 men, they played with 50,000 men."
Of his own charges he was less complimentary.
"My team only became a team again at the very end," Mourinho said. "Why? Because they are scared, that's why. We weren't an organized team defensively. We can't take it easy." Mourinho will now take charge of his seventh Champions League semifinal. "We do not know which team we will face yet," he said, "but they will be great."