After storming through the group stage against all odds en route to last season's final, Borussia Dortmund were a known quantity this term and their path to the knockout rounds was anything but straightforward.
Story so far
Given their astonishing run to Wembley last May, Dortmund could hardly have got off to a worse start in their 2013/14 opener, losing 2-1 at SSC Napoli and having goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller red-carded. They recovered well with a comfortable 3-0 home success against Olympique de Marseille and a closely contested 2-1 victory at Arsenal FC. However, after the Gunners won the return fixture 1-0, the Schwarzgelben needed a 3-1 triumph over Napoli to stay in contention. On a frantic closing night in Group F, Kevin Grosskreutz's 87th-minute winner away to Marseille sealed their progress and top spot.
Dortmund fans have become accustomed to drama in the UEFA Champions League. The mere mention of the name Felipe Santana is enough to evoke impassioned memories, but the feelings of sheer joy and relief must have been similar when home-town boy Grosskreutz scored a typically unfashionable goal with three minutes left in Marseille on matchday six to secure the club's last-16 place.
Key player: Robert Lewandowski
He may seem the easy option but there is no getting away from his importance to Dortmund. While Lewandowski's goals are the obvious currency – he notched four in the group stage – the 25-year-old Polish international is more than just a finisher. His touch, skill and awareness are world class, as is the way he brings others into play, as his two assists testify. Take Lewandowski out of the equation and Dortmund are suddenly a far less daunting proposition.
Rising star: Erik Durm
A striker converted by Jürgen Klopp into a full-back as recently as the summer, Durm profited hugely as a result of regular left-back Marcel Schmelzer's injury early this campaign. Thrust into the side on matchday two, the 21-year-old's UEFA Champions League debut could hardly have gone better. He set up Lewandowski's opener and almost scored himself in a marauding performance down the left which suggested the former 1. FSV Mainz 05 schoolboy has a big future.
This is the first time in 16 years that Dortmund have qualified for the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League for the second season running. The last time this happened was the 1996/97 campaign, when the Schwarzgelben famously went on to lift the trophy under Ottmar Hitzfeld.
"I'm overwhelmed with joy – to have found the net and finished a long goal drought as well as to score such a crucial goal. To then celebrate the win with our fans after the game was the greatest reward. They're a mad bunch, in a positive way of course."
Grosskreutz after registering the crucial late goal that took Dortmund into the last 16 as Group F winners
Next challenge: FC Zenit
Grosskreutz's tardy intervention in Marseille won Dortmund the group and consequently an arguably more manageable opponent in Zenit. The trip to Russia in late February will be one for only the most dedicated Borussia fans, though last term's finalists will certainly be confident of prevailing over two legs.
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