Adrián Ramos expected to begin Borussia Dortmund's game with Sporting CP on the bench as usual, but made the most of his late promotion with the goal that secured a last-16 place.
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That Borussia Dortmund beat Sporting CP to reach the UEFA Champions League round of 16 was not a surprise – though Adrián Ramos grabbing the only goal certainly was.
Not because the 30-year-old Colombia striker is an unlikely scorer, but because it looked rather improbable that he would feature. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a world-class forward, but when Ramos arrived from Hertha Berlin in 2014, having just scored 16 Bundesliga goals in 2013/14, he must have hoped for a bit more than becoming understudy to the Gabon forward.
Ramos had a tough first season at BVB, scoring just twice in the Bundesliga, before warming to his role a bit better last campaign, with nine in the league. Aubameyang and Ramos were sometimes deployed together, one of them down the right, but when it really counted, Ramos's place was on the bench and the 2015 African footballer of the year scored the goals on the pitch.
The same roles were assigned for the match with Sporting, but a couple of hours before kick-off it emerged that Aubameyang had been left out "for internal reasons". Ramos started, and showed why he likes the UEFA Champions League, where he had scored three goals in just 97 minutes of action as a substitute in the 2014/15 campaign.
With just 12 minutes played, he rose highest to head home a beautiful Matthias Ginter cross from the right – a goal that ultimately proved to be the winner and sealed Dortmund's passage into the next round.
"Adrián Ramos performed in the way we'd hoped he would – he played well and scored the decisive goal," said a visibly relieved BVB coach Thomas Tuchel, who stressed that "as a coach you are either consequential all the time or never."
He continued: "Ramos is always working a lot and playing for the team and has once more helped us today, not only through his goal."
Match data confirmed how much Ramos laboured for the home side: he won the most challenges of any player on the pitch and drew the most fouls. Never a man to look for the limelight, he did not comment on his match-winning performance afterwards. And it is quite possible that he will be back to his usual spot on the bench when Dortmund kick off at Hamburg on Saturday.
"The good thing about this situation is that Aubameyang will be fresh and rested on Saturday," said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, hinting that normal service will soon be resumed. Ramos will be ready, either way. Until the next time he is called upon.