In-tune Santana gets Dortmund through

Posted by Stephan Uersfeld

"We are relieved to have qualified for the next round," Dortmund general manager Michael Zorc said Tuesday after his team reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time in 15 years with their 3-0 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in Germany.

Faith was everything Felipe Santana asked for Tuesday. It took the Dortmund centre-back some 30 minutes to underline his statement. Santana headed home a Mario Gotze corner and Borussia nicely cruised towards the final eight. The Brazilian defender had been named Dortmund's weak point by many going into the match. But he didn’t care.

-- Dortmund ease into final eight

Sporting a new haircut, Santana not only controlled the Donetsk attack during the first half but was there for his special moment. Faith! Was all he needed!

Santana's supposed shortcomings were well chronicled, but with Mats Hummels ruled out Jurgen Klopp was left with no other option. “It’s all good,” Klopp said ahead of the match when asked if Borussia would be able to replace Hummels, the German international. But Santana, who recently cost Dortmund two goals in two games, made sure it was all good from the start, just as Klopp said.

It was Borussia’s central midfield that dominated early on. During the first half, Borussia had 63 percent possession and controlled the early stages. A few Shahktar counterattacks did not harm Borussia, with Sven Bender being everywhere. Injury-prone Bender picked up the passes and put them through to the likes of Gotze and Marco Reus, who loved the fact he was given air to breathe by Donetsk.

Just like Santana, Bender had been a Dortmund worry beforehand. This season, largely due to minor injuries, Bender has only started 10 of 24 Bundesliga games. After the 2-2 draw away to Donetsk it was widely believed that Sebastian Kehl would start.

Still, Bender dominated the midfield. He was all over the place, picked up the balls and bossed Donetsk, summing up Dortmund's play in the first half. Borussia, under massive pressure following their recent German Cup defeat to Bayern Munich, were able to show their European face again.

The recent Robert Lewandowski and Bayern vs Dortmund turmoil had overshadowed the fact that Die Schwatzgelben weren't named dark horses to win this year’s Champions League by the likes of Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson by mistake.

The team that had come out on top of a Champions League group with Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax was about to be written off by German media in a “what comes up must come down” kind of way. But they were willing to fight back.

“Everything we have experienced for the first time so far was particularly beautiful,” Klopp said before the game. And beautiful it was. The team that had put “romantic” back into German football during their back-to-back title-winning campaigns over the last two years finally put “romantic” back into their and Europe’s vocabulary Tuesday night.

Take Dortmund’s second goal, for instance. A throw in deep in Dortmund’s own half needed only three touches to end up in the Donetsk goal. Lukasz Piszczek to Reus to Lewandowski, who took his time to sound out the situation, looking up twice, then calmly crossing the ball right into Gotze’s sight, who -- with outstanding technique -- effortlessly put the ball away from short distance.

It was 2-0 at half time, 4-2 on aggregate, before an ecstatic 65,000 at the Westfalenstadion Dortmund had a safe cushion. But still, Dortmund had given away a 2-0 lead at the Westfalenstadion on several occasions over the past few months and when the team entered the pitch again, Sven Bender was nowhere to be seen.

"During the Hannover match I broke a rib,” Kehl said. “It was never planned I’d play for such a long time today. But it was even worse with (Bender), he had to go out. That’s bitter, I was in real pain.” Meanwhile, Shahktar fielded Douglas Costa, and during the opening minutes put pressure on Dortmund, knowing only an early goal could save them. It took Dortmund some 10 minutes to make up for the loss of Bender and find their way back into the game.

But when Poland skipper Jakub Blaszczykowski broke away on the left, stepped on the ball, passed it to Ilkay Gundogan and finally picked up the shot deflected by Shahktar shot-stopper Andriy Pyatov, all was said and done. It took him seconds to decide, while picking up the ball and cruising past the beaten goalie, that he was going for the short corner, then made it 3-0. The game was won.

Borussia Dortmund are now unbeaten in eight Champions League games this season. Die Schwatzgelben have brushed off all pressure put on them during the past few weeks and have reminded Europe how strong they really are. “When I leave Dortmund,” Kuba recently said “I want people to say, 'He’s not been the worst player.' "

When Dortmund leave this year’s Champions League, they might say they have not been the worst side. On Tuesday, Borussia hinted there might be greater things to come.

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