DORTMUND, Germany -- Three observations from Borussia Dortmund's 3-1 Champions League win over Napoli, which put the Bundesliga side within reach of the knockout stages.
Napoli on the right path
Around the hour mark of Dortmund's past two games, the away teams broke the deadlock at the Westfalenstadion. Both Arsenal and Bayern Munich scored and Dortmund never came back.
After 59 minutes in this one, Gonzalo Higuain broke clear, with only Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller between him and the goal. Weidenfeller made a spectacular save, and seconds later Robert Lewandowski sent Marco Reus flying down the left wing.
The Germany international saw his Polish teammate Jakub Blaszcyzkowski, who, for once, was able to get the ball past the outstanding Pepe Reina. The Spaniard had kept Napoli alive, making several great saves, but at the hour mark he got nutmegged by the Poland captain.
In one minute, the match could have gone either way. After a solid first half, with one nasty tackle by Raul Abiol against Henrik Mkhitaryan, the game excelled in the second half. Napoli had to attack and Dortmund had to attack. The constellation of the group made it even more exciting.
"We had the huge chance to make it 1-1, and they doubled the score from the counter," Napoli coach Rafael Benitez said. "We played against the Champions League finalist. We have played a good season so far."
Napoli have now lost their past three competitive games. A 0-3 defeat at Juventus, a 0-1 loss against Parma at home and now the 1-3 result in Dortmund.
"It was clear the best counterattacking team in Europe would get their chances once we opened the defence," Benitez said.
Dortmund finished off Napoli with a counterattack, again set up by Robert Lewandowski, who waited for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to run into position. It was a double of a similar move just minutes before. This time Aubameyang got the ball into the back of the net.
"I can only reiterate, we have played against the Champions League finalist. We are in a group with Arsenal, who are one of the best teams in Premier League, the best league in the world," Benitez said.
In a game that could have gone either way at the Westfalenstadion, Napoli were close contenders, but during that key moment in the 59th minute they ran out of luck.
"The team has shown character. We wanted to attack and not play for a draw," Benitez said. And his team delivered. One can only hope that Napoli will continue on their path.
"We are certainly on the right track. We are currently making a step forward. The team is still developing and is not that far away from the top," Benitez added, vowing to not give up.
True group of death
Let's look at the direct comparison between the top three teams in Group F: Arsenal have won six points, scored four and conceded two. Borussia Dortmund have also picked up six points, scoring six and conceding five. Napoli have only three points, with a goal difference of -3.
On Match Day 6, Napoli entertain Arsenal at home and Dortmund take on Marseille, who are still without a single point.
The group of death is more than living up to its expectations. We have seen great games and the encounter between Borussia Dortmund and Napoli was one of those Champions League games the competition was invented for.
A passionate game of football in one of Europe's finest stadiums on a cold night that had the fans jumping up and down and singing their hearts out on both ends.
Napoli had 13 shots at goal in response to the hosts' 20. On Tuesday night, both Dortmund and Napoli showed why they have earned their place in the Champions League. The Champions League season for one of those teams, however, will end after the group stages.
"Jurgen Klopp explained the constellation yesterday. But I really didn't get it when it was 2-1. It felt better once we scored the 3-1," Nuri Sahin said after the game.
Indeed, it is a difficult constellation.
Borussia Dortmund need to record a win at Marseille on the last match day to make it to the knockout stages without help. Should Napoli lose to Arsenal, Dortmund are through no matter what happens in Marseille.
Napoli, on the other hand, need to better Dortmund's result to finish ahead of them, having lost the direct duel to Borussia Dortmund. Should Dortmund win and Napoli beat Arsenal it will be enough only if they beat Arsenal by a three-goal margin, and they could finish the group on top if they beat Arsenal by four.
That is the only way Arsenal, who sit on top of the group with 12 points, could be eliminated from the competition. It would be the first time in Champions League history that 12 points are not enough to get out of a group.
For Dortmund, however, on such a wasteful night, the three points against Napoli mean the 2013 Champions League runners-up are back in the race.
"I didn't want to contemplate it too much. The team didn't quite get the 2-1 situation. And they were down on the ground for a little while. That wasn't really necessary. But they kept pushing for that third goal. It was a great game," Jurgen Klopp said.
The Dortmund coach was more than right. It is a shame that from this group only two teams can qualify for the knockout stages. But this is the merciless competition that is called the Champions League.
On the road to Marseille
"You made sure we've got that alcohol tester?" "Why's that?" "Mandatory in France." "Ah, nobody will show up for that trip anyway!" Dortmund fans were already in gloom ahead of their fifth Champions League match of the season.
Having been to London, on that cursed but joyful day in May 2013, Borussia Dortmund might have never intended to make it to Lisbon in 2014, but last season's Champions League finalists certainly hoped to get out of the group alive. It started with a downer during the draw, when instead of Viktoria Plzen they got SSC Napoli out of pot 4. Plzen were drawn Bayern Munich instead.
Dortmund lost their first match 2-1 at Napoli, and two victories at home against Marseille and away at Arsenal seemed to have lifted their campaign off the ground. A 1-0 defeat against Arsenal at home, followed by two zero-pointers in the Bundesliga and long-term injuries to key players like Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer, left Dortmund on the verge of a crisis.
Going into the do-or-die tie against Napoli, Dortmund needed all three points to keep their Champions League campaign alive.
Once inside the stadium, warming up, the Suedtribuene threw their "BVB" chants at the opposite north end at the Westfalenstadion, and they roared back -- "BVB."
Maybe, on this night, they needed that bit of luck that occurred 10 minutes into the game. Federico Fernandez pulled Lewandowski's jersey and the Pole went down in the box. Penalty for BVB.
"Dortmund, Dortmund" chants rang around the stadium as Reus fired home to give his side the lead. From there it was a different story. Lewandowski should have and Reus could have doubled the score minutes later. A couple of Dortmund chances followed, but Napoli were dangerous, with the best chance coming from Jose Callejon, whose shot from the right hit the woodwork.
A great game of football followed in the second half. Dortmund were wasteful, as ever. And Napoli gave them a huge fight, sometimes a bit too much. In the end, Dortmund converted just enough of their many chances.
Just like on Saturday, when Bayern took revenge, the Suedtribuene sang through the last couple of minutes. "The atmosphere took us under its wings today. It started right at the end of the Bayern game," Dortmund talisman Kevin Grosskreutz said. "We did it for the city, for the fans and for us."
Klopp added: "We did not think about what this game meant for our season. We were entirely focused on only that game. And we wanted to keep on dreaming our Champions League dream."
That car down to Marseille will be jam-packed in mid-December. They better get that alcohol tester.