Borussia Dortmund completed their sensational roller-coaster ride to the Champions League final on Tuesday with a performance that left club bosses on the brink of emotional collapse as the team muscled their way back into Europe’s elite.
Dortmund looked assured for most of the match against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, but two late goals set up a frantic finale as the Germans clung on for a 4-3 aggregate win that put them in the final for the first time since 1997.
A sensational 4-1 first-leg home victory in which striker Robert Lewandowski found the net four times set the foundations for their trip to London’s Wembley Stadium on May 25, but Real’s stirring fightback made it uncomfortable viewing for some in the Dortmund camp.
“I guess we can only do drama,” said club boss Hans-Joachim Watzke, who has been responsible for Dortmund’s financial renaissance after the club appeared to be on the brink of collapse in 2005.
“It was the first time I had to stop watching due to heart problems. I spent the last 20 minutes locked in the toilet, covered my ears and looked at my watch,” he added.
Dortmund staged an even more dramatic finale in the quarter-final against Malaga, scoring twice in stoppage-time to snatch a stunning 3-2 aggregate win.
“I thought about doing it [copying Watzke] as well a couple of times,” manager Juergen Klopp said when asked to describe the final minutes of the game.
Dortmund, on the brink of bankruptcy nine years ago, have bounced back in style, winning back-to-back domestic titles from 2011.
While Dortmund are undoubtedly the surprise team of the season, their rise cannot be considered a classic rags-to-riches Cinderella story. It is the story of a club’s attempt to return to the top of European soccer, a position they last occupied in 1997.
For Dortmund, Tuesday’s qualification completed a trip from mid-table mediocrity in the Bundesliga to a Champions League final within three seasons.
On a financial level, reaching the final is expected to swell Dortmund profits to record levels and help break the 250 million euro (US$329.8 million) turnover mark for the 2012-2013 season.
When newly crowned Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich beat Dortmund in the DFB Pokal quarter-finals earlier this year, Bayern president Uli Hoeness was quick to point out the power struggle between the two sides had tipped back in favor of the Bavarians.
After two dominant Dortmund seasons, Bayern were back on top, but what Hoeness had failed to acknowledge was Dortmund’s battling qualities in Europe.
Hoeness’ words could come back to haunt him at the end of the month with Bayern, taking a 4-0 first-leg lead to Barcelona yesterday, almost certain to be Dortmund’s opponents in what would be the first all-German Champions League final.
Bayern are also Dortmund’s Bundesliga opponents on Saturday, but Klopp is playing down the importance of that match and Hoeness’ talk of a power shift.
“It could be that we get hit over the head by Bayern [in the league], but it would be the sweetest defeat ever. I cannot stop my players from going out for a few beers after such an achievement. I would be an idiot,” Klopp said.
However, it may not be all celebration as Dortmund star Mario Goetze is set to miss the Bundesliga showdown and faces a race against time to be fit for the Champions final after tearing his left hamstring in Tuesday’s semi-final.