I have been to plenty of football matches and seen plenty of important victories, but seldom have I seen a stadium erupting into joy quite like the BVB Stadion did when Borussia Dortmund beat Real Madrid CF 2-1 last night.
This match, which was full of end-to-end action, was maybe one of the most important in recent years for Dortmund. Of course, you don't get to beat the competition's most successful club every week, but it's not only that. There are two other very significant reasons.
A couple of weeks ago I pointed out that after back-to-back titles in the Bundesliga coupled with the demolition of rivals FC Bayern München in the German Cup final last season, this could quite well be the campaign when Dortmund falter on the domestic stage but thrive in Europe. I don't know what could better underline that statement than BVB first losing the derby against FC Schalke 04 and seeing Bayern run away in the Bundesliga table, and then going on to beat Real Madrid in one of the toughest groups this competition has seen, even though the visitors have a miserable record in Germany.
Then there is the second reason. Last term many thought Dortmund to be too green to succeed in Europe after two UEFA competition group stage exits in a row. Some even questioned if Dortmund's playing style would work in Europe at all, however much Jürgen Klopp refuted those suggestions whenever they came up. After the strong performance at Manchester City FC, and especially after overcoming the Merengues, no one will say that any more.
Fittingly, it was Marcel Schmelzer who scored the winner – someone whose ability to play well for Germany has been unfairly queried by some in the past two weeks. While I was with the referee right after the game, I could hear the BVB players singing loudly in the showers. Dortmund have come of age in Europe and again it is not a surprise that this might go hand-in-hand with them losing their Bundesliga crown.
A team that has shown similar improvements is FC Schalke 04. Just three weeks ago, the Royal Blues gave away a 2-0 lead in front of their own fans to draw with Montpellier Hérault SC, yet any doubts about Schalke's real capabilities were answered by that derby triumph in Dortmund and a very clinical 2-0 away win at Arsenal FC on Wednesday.
The Gunners were unbeaten in their previous 16 home matches in Europe and it took a typically well organised and ruthless Huub Stevens side to end that sequence with late goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay, who is starting to fit in better and better with every game. Stevens's team are now well-poised to reach the next round.
Last but not least, FC Bayern München bounced back from their shock defeat at FC BATE Borisov with an unglamorous yet tremendously important 1-0 victory at LOSC Lille. So at the halfway mark, BVB and Schalke lead their respective sections and few will doubt that Bayern will eventually qualify from their group. Great times, then, for German clubs in the competition. Is it too early to wonder whether one or two have what it takes to go all the way to Wembley?
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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