Today we get the second of the two German/Spanish Champions League semifinal affairs and it’s a decidedly easier game to pick a rooting interest in from a neutral standpoint.
Even though they wear white, Real Madrid are the proverbial ‘Black Hats.’ All that’s missing is Sergio Ramos twirling an invisible mustache as he commits foul-after-foul without finding a place in the referee’s notebook.
Unless you’re a fan of Madrid, it’s hard to root for Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo. Respect them? Yes. Root for them to win the Champions League? No.
That leaves Borussia Dortmund riding into its 80,000 seat Westfalenstadion as the plucky heroes in yellow and black.
The pressure in this semifinal will be firmly on Madrid, too, as the club looks to win its record 10th European championship. Real hasn’t won a Championship League since 2002, thanks to this stunning winner from Zinedine Zidane against another German club, Bayer Leverkausen.
Dortmund, which won the Champions League in 1997, isn’t in the ‘happy to be there’ camp even after their miraculous win over Malaga in the quarterfinals which saw them score twice in stoppage time. The window for Jürgen Klopp’s admired, pressing side might be closing. On Monday news broken that Bayern Munich had triggered the release clause in star Mario Götze’s contract, meaning he’ll move to the Bavarian powerhouse. Star Polish striker Robert Lewandowski is likely going to join him at FC Hollywood, too.
Bayern — 4-0 winners over Barcelona on Tuesday — are following the Catalans blueprint of buying the best players from their domestic rivals. Pep Guardiola should fit right in.
There’s also another way to look at it this move, in that it’s a form of payback for when Bayern loaned Dortmund money in 2003 when the Ruhr club was teetering toward bankruptcy.
As talented as Götze is, the key man for Dortmund over the two legs might be deep-lying playmaker İlkay Gündoğan, who’ll be instrumental in trying to break up Madrid attacks and thread balls for Götze, Lewandowski and Marco Reus to run onto.
If Klopp’s team is going to confirm its status as of the decade’s best club teams, rather than one that was fun to watch from afar — and one that also allowed soccer fans to cling to some sort of misplaced notion of “hipster cred” — now is the time.
Same goes for Mourinho at Madrid.
The Special One came to Real to do what he did at both Porto and Inter Milan — win the Champions League. All signs point to him leaving this summer to (maybe) return to Chelsea, so if he wants to add to his legacy as the most successful club manager of the 21st century it’s either now … or his next stop.
How will the two managers play the first leg? The teams were paired against one another in the group stage, Dortmund won the game in Germany and the game in Spain was a draw. The group stage games, mind, were played without the specter of the increasingly asinine “away goals” rule.
It’s hard to see Dortmund lining up at home and playing conservatively to try to hold Madrid scoreless in the first leg. If Dortmund sit deeper than usual, Madrid have the individual players to pick them apart, but if they press and turn the ball over Madrid is also equally lethal — if not moreso — on the counter attack. You’d have to think the Gelsenkirchen-born, former Schalke 04 player Mesut Özil would like nothing more than to stick it to Dortmund.
Klopp will know the odds of his team going to the Bernabeu and holding Madrid off the scoreboard are slim. For Dortmund to have a puncher’s chance to advance to the final, it’ll have to put up some goals in the first leg buoyed by the home crowd and carry that momentum into next week.
Unlike Bayern, which used its size and muscle to push Barcelona around Dortmund doesn’t have a decided physical advantage over Madrid.
Goalkeepers Roman Weidenfeller and Diego Lopez will need to have great days or this game is going to have plenty of goals and set up a must-see second leg in the Spanish capital. (Or at least more “must see” than the second leg of Bayern/Barcelona.)
Note, this game is on FX not the usual Fox Soccer, so plan accordingly especially if Gus Johnson is in the mix behind the mic.
If so, the noise from the Dortmund fans could drown him out, which would be a nice bonus.
[photo via Getty]