Die Schwarzgelben have smashed expectations – but one final challenge remains for Borussia Dortmund

For Borussia Dortmund, it’s been a season of ups and downs. But, at this point, they’re used to that. 

This is a club who essentially invented the saying ‘forever the bridesmaids, never the bride,’ particularly in the Bundesliga. Since their last league title in 2012, they’ve finished runners up seven times, and never was that more painful than last season. Heading into the final game of the season, all they needed was to defeat midtable Mainz to win their first title in nearly a decade.

But this is Borussia Dortmund – so they drew, gift-wrapping Bayern’s eleventh consecutive Meisterschale with the now customary red and white ribbons.

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Things are different this year. In the Bundesliga, the red and white of Munich was replaced by the red and black of Leverkusen, with Xabi Alonso’s side going the entire domestic season unbeaten, bagging the DFB-Pokal in the process.

Amongst all that, though, the question of where Borussia Dortmund were persists. Well, the answer is simple: they were focusing on Europe. 

No one expected a thing from die Schwarzgelben this year. They’ve been allergic to trophies since their DFB-Pokal triumph in 2021, back in the days when they were blessed with the Norway’s answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator as a striker, and last season certainly showed that. They’ve continued that theme domestically this season, too, finishing fifth in the league and falling to high-flying Stuttgart in the round-of-16 of the cup. 

Europe’s been different. 

Sandwiched slap bang in the middle of this year’s group of death with a new look PSG, the giants of AC Milan and the returning Newcastle United, BVB were given virtually no chance. However, the theme of their European journey this season has been that they don’t need to be favourites. 

They lost their opening game of the tournament at the Parc de Princes, but they responded impeccably, going unbeaten for the rest of the group stage. A three-game run in which they defeated Newcastle twice and Milan at San Siro defined their progression to the knockout stages.

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They were defensively resolute, conceding only five times in their six group games, and relied heavily on counter attacks to catch out their napping rivals. In fact, they averaged only 43.6% possession across those six games, having more shots than their opponents only three times. 

The knockouts have been trickier, though. They failed to win either of their first leg ties in the round-of-16 and quarterfinals, drawing 1-1 with PSV and losing 2-1 to Atlético Madrid respectively. It’s almost in Dortmund’s DNA to make things difficult for themselves.

That said, it’s not necessarily been in their DNA to overcome those obstacles they’ve placed in their own path. Losses against all the sides above them (bar, funnily enough, Bayer Leverkusen) reduced their chances of winning the Bundesliga to dust by early December, and the less said about their exit from the DFB-Pokal, the better.

But on the continent, it’s been a different story. We’ve seen a more determined, more resolute version of Borussia Dortmund since the knockouts began, and they’ve proved it with their results. However, like all successful sides, they’ve benefited from the one thing no one likes to talk about: luck. 

In their second leg tie with PSV, their Dutch visitors were the better side, and although Dortmund scored early, the best chances of the game didn’t fall for them, with the woodwork, goalkeeper Gregor Köbel and poor finishing all helping them overcome a PSV side who – if all was fair – should’ve probably progressed in their place. But life isn’t fair, and football can be such a wonderful microcosm of life, so it was Dortmund who advanced to tee up a clash with Atlético Madrid. 

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One thing that separates BVB and los Colchoneros is their European records. Quite simply, Dortmund have won the Champions League and Atléti haven’t. But in recent seasons, it’s Simeone’s side who have been staples of the competition, reaching two finals in the last decade. Dortmund, by comparison, hadn’t progressed past the quarterfinal stage since their own final defeat back in 2013, back on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium. 

In their first leg clash, they played into Atléti’s hands, dominating the ball and allowing the hosts to sit deep; just how Diego Simeone likes it. A mistake from Chelsea-loanee Ian Maatsen gifted Rodrigo De Paul the first goal, and a bit of magic from their creator-in-chief Antoine Griezmann helped Samuel Lino double the lead. Remember, though, this is a new Dortmund. This is a persistent Dortmund, and they weren’t going to accept a two-goal deficit, with Sebastian Haller halving the deficit before the second leg.

One thing you should know when facing Borussia Dortmund is not to underestimate the power of the Westfalenstadion and its famed Yellow Wall. They hadn’t lost there in Europe all season, and they weren’t about to let Atletico Madrid be the first to slay them. 

The second leg was an exercise in chance creation. Of 19 shots, BVB would score four of them; of Atletico’s ten, they could only score two. 

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If their group stage performance wasn’t already, this was the statement of intent. This was Borussia Dortmund letting Europe know that they weren’t going to roll over and let the big boys use them as a stepping stone to the next stage. 

Come the semifinals, PSG should really have heeded that warning. The only side to beat Dortmund in Europe thus far, it’s fair to say there was a degree of complacency from Luis Enrique’s men. 

Complacency or otherwise, though, what no one considered was that there was someone else waiting for the perfect moment to tell Europe not to forget about him. Remember Jadon Sancho, Manchester United fans? If you’d forgotten what he can do, the first-leg clash with PSG certainly served as a memory-jogger. 

It was a one-man show. The Englishman danced through the French champions for 90 minutes as if it was playground stuff. He was so good that, come fulltime, no one was talking about Niclas Füllkrug’s brilliant driven goal; they were talking about Sancho.

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But they had lady luck rule in their favour again: PSG hit the post twice in the space of ten seconds in the second half, and try as they might, nothing could breach the Dortmund goal. 

In the second leg in Paris, the hosts were unimaginative, and a set-piece was all Edin Terzić’s side needed to unlock the defence, with veteran Mats Hummels nodding in Julian Brandt’s corner to put the result out of Parisian reach. 

So now we’re here. Wembley beckons for Borussia Dortmund as it did eleven years ago. Back then it was bitter rivals Bayern on the horizon, now it’s record-champions Real Madrid. But if they’ve shown one thing this season, it’s that they’re not to be underestimated.

They escaped the group of death, they defeated the Dutch champions, they shocked Simeone’s staples, and they dispatched France’s premier side. Is Real Madrid and a reunion with Jude Bellingham a step too far? Well, for Borussia Dortmund, it’s not easy to be sure whether such a thing exists. 

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