Dortmund on cloud 9 after euphoric final few minutes to beat Malaga
It was the kind of night that had elderly supporters reaching for their blood pressure pills. But even Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp professed a need for medical attention after the final whistle had gone in the heaving Westfalenstadion.
"I think I need to see a doctor," he said, "I feel as if we have won the European Cup."
As club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke sanctioned "a few beers" to toast the unlikely resurrection with two goals in extra time ("we were already dead," he said), Klopp feared that sore heads might not be the only ill-effects of the black and yellow celebrations.
"It's so great, the people here are so happy that they'll have a second hole in the backside," he said, in typically colorful language.
It could have easily ended on a bum note for the German champions, too, however. Manuel Pellegrini's Malaga was tactically superior in the second leg of their Champions League quarterfinal Tuesday night. The Spanish club was up 2-1 in the match (and in aggregate) going into added time. It frustrated the home side with precise marking in midfield, broke with pace and aplomb and had an inspired goalkeeper in Willy Caballero. Granted, Eliseu's 82nd-minute goal to put Malaga up 2-1 had come from an offside position, but the Spaniards had deserved their good luck.
"It was our worst performance in the Champions League this season, we would have deserved to go out," Klopp said.
Midfielder Ilkay Gündogan, one of the few Borussia players to reach his regular level, told of a nervousness affecting their game.
"We lost the ball needlessly a lot, we didn't play with freedom unlike in Malaga," the German international said. "One or two of their players were always in our faces".
When Gündogan came off in the 86th minute for center back Mats Hummels, he didn't fully believe Dortmund could still progress to their first Champions League semifinal since 1998.
"I was thinking about all the chances we missed over the two legs, about Willy's fantastic saves," he said. "It was such a bad feeling, you felt so hard done by. But all of that made (the eventual win) even sweeter, more beautiful and unforgettable".
"Of course we were very, very lucky at the end," sporting director Michael Zorc said. Klopp's retro move of using defenders Neven Subotic and Felipe Santana as auxiliary strikers -- "it's a tactic from 1846," joked German Sky expert Eric Meijer -- and hoof it long resulted in two very, very late goals, the first from Marco Reus and the second one a candidate for "most irregular goal ever:" at three different times in the attack, Dortmund players were offside. Somehow, the Scottish referee team let Santana's 3-2 winner stand.
"I am aware that today, football showed its two faces," said Klopp, with genuine empathy for the opposition. "We got lucky. But in the past, we didn't. So it feels good tonight."
Santana's toe poke on the line didn't just change the outcome of this tie. It changed the whole narrative of Dortmund's European campaign. Amid the euphoria, Dortmund players and officials might have realized that talk of trophy dreams and destiny had instantly replaced a solemn inquest into the failings. Overhyped, inexperienced, tactically naive, wasteful, defensively suspect, mentally fragile, lacking depth -- Dortmund was only one correct offside decision away from these unflattering buzzwords in Wednesday's newspaper reports. But Tuesday night was one of those "football miracle(s)" (Bild) when analysis and result don't really go together. No wonder (pun intended) German commentators were reminded of Manchester United's similarly incongruous 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.
In the cold light of day, its failings might yet come back to trouble Dortmund again and ultimately stop it from going all the way in the competition. "BVB has the thinnest squad of all possible semifinalists," wrote Spiegel Online, "many players have been struggling for weeks, they seem tired and over-played."
It's all true. But Klopp and his men can also take heart that this was very much a win against type. By the manager's own admission, his Borussia has been an all-or-nothing team. It only succeeds when it plays to the fullest of its potential, with maximum concentration. When it doesn't -- like in this year's Bundesliga, where it's a whopping 20 points behind champion Bayern -- it hasn't been able to win.
This time, however, it did find a way, despite all the mistakes and problems, and with a "route-one" football that couldn't have been further removed from its usual high-speed combination game. In the evolution of this team toward a genuine European power, this was undoubtedly an important step. It's a cliche but true nevertheless: winning without fully convincing is the true mark of class in this game.
On the evidence of Tuesday night, it won't quite be enough to repeat the heroics of 1997, when an unfancied Borussia side beat Juventus 3-1 in the Champions League final in Munich. But it doesn't really matter, at least not for the next couple of weeks. Gate-crashing the last four of UEFA's top competition is in itself reward enough for the moment. Dortmund knows that it's still a work in progress; the extra money from the next round will help to build the team and keep all its important players.
Any more success -- deserved or otherwise -- will resemble the stuff of fairy tales and further threaten the health of Klopp and everyone of a Black and Yellow persuasion. But Borussia doesn't need win any more games in Europe to feel on cloud nine. It's a wonderful position to be in.