Dortmund must smooth things out in return leg

Posted by Stephan Uersfeld

Back in the days when all that mattered was a ball, a bunch of kids chasing it on a cinder pitch somewhere in the Ruhr-Area and some dad acting as the referee, we used to meet up early on Saturdays and travel to some Ruhr-Area suburb. There we would face some outfit that was all up for taking on the boys from one of the more rural suburbs.

There were times they did not stand a chance, a guy called Claas used to put away most of the chances. But there were also times the kids from Schwarz-Weiss Rollinghausen, DSC Wanne-Eickel, Arminia Ickern or Westfalia Herne would do the job and leave us without a goal. Claas did not like that.

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“Forgot your Nutella for breakfast,” we cried to take the mickey out of him. Nutella, a much-loved German hazelnut cream, was his favourite spread and Claas believed it made him stronger, more focused and gave him a powerful shot. The following week, fuelled up by a huge Nutella sandwich in the morning, Claas was back to being the target man he was and the goalkeepers of Wacker Obercastrop or Blau-Gelb Schwerin stood no chance against the leading top scorer of the Under-8-league.

Watching Borussia Dortmund play Malaga to a scoreless draw Wednesday night reminded me of those good old times.

Both teams reached the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League not by mistake, but by their pure will and with all the pleasure of being the underdogs. Malaga, in the middle of a huge financial crisis, won their group ahead of AC Milan and did not lose a single game and Dortmund, of course, topped the “group of death” by not only eliminating the Premier League champions Manchester City but also by picking up four points against Real Madrid. In the round of the last 16, Malaga overcame Porto and Dortmund did a solid job against Ukraine side Shakhtar Donetsk.

Wednesday everything was set for “one of the best games of the competition”, as Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp had promised ahead of the game. Going into the match Dortmund were slight favourites.

Despite having to do without Poland star Jakub Blaszczykowski, who had to pull out with a muscle injury only hours before the game, Dortmund began to dominate the match after a nervous first 15 minutes. During those first few minutes Malaga got close to open the scoring when Javier Saviola sneaked past Ilkay Gundogan but only hit the outside of the net.

A typical Dortmund play then turned the next 15 minutes around in Dortmund's favour. Robert Lewandowski flicked on a long ball and Mario Gotze stormed towards the goal. At least for a moment. Then the Germany internaional decided to cross over to the right and roll the ball towards Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero.

Minutes later Gotze missed his second chance of the night after Gundogan had set him up nicely. Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski were next in line to waste chances, mostly by mistaking a back pass for a shot at goal. All the time, Gundogan ruled the midfield, with his passes being real highlights.

But Malaga fought back, with Dortmund poorly distributing balls from the centre-back position. Dortmund looked shaky, at times sloppy, in defense and most of all they were nervous. Maybe they had come to realize what they were just about to do, beat Malaga and make a huge step towards the semifinals. Maybe that burden was too much for the still-young Dortmund team.

Indeed, it was keeper Roman Weidenfeller holding on to the goalless draw ahead of halftime. The experienced keeper kept Dortmund in the fight.

Poland international Lewandowski missed a sitter as Dortmund stormed into the second half. Lewandowski had been played free some 11 meters from the Malaga goal, and -- being aware of what the Pole is capable of -- made the miss even more extraordinary. Lewandowski missed the goal by far.

The game slowed down with Malaga forces starting to wane, but when Gotze missed after an hour it became clear that Dortmund could play on for hours without scoring. Midway through the second half Weidenfeller stopped a powerful Isco shot and both teams settled for the draw.

When Dortmund host Malaga in the second leg, they certainly need to make sure to have some Nutella for breakfast nextTuesday morning. Going into the return leg at a dangerous 0-0, Dortmund have to make sure to stop their sloppy defending and to start scoring from one of the many chances they will most certainly create. The great build-up play by Gundogan must now be transformed into goals to keep the dream of Wembley 2013 alive.

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