It’s too recent to put in any proper perspective, our tendency to exaggerate what’s new and fresh destined to drift into hyperbole. Instead, it’s best to think about Borussia Dortmund players climbing fences to celebrate with fans; the dejected slouches of Málaga’s players scattered across the pitch at the Westfalenstadion sat in testimony of what’d just happened. BVB had completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in Champions League history. Instead of perspective, it was best to focus on the moment.
Down 2-1 on aggregate as the clock spun past 90:00, the reigning German champions needed two goals to overturn Málaga’s away goals tiebreaker. Over the course of three nebulous minutes that ticked off as the stadium clock stood still, BVB got them. Goal mouth scrambles pushed home by Marco Reus and Felipe Santana in the 91st and 93rd minutes saved Jurgen Klopp’s side, giving Dortmund a miraculous 3-2 win that vaults them into UEFA Champions League’s semifinals.
The stakes may not have been as high, but the method was reminiscent of the 1999 final. That’s when Manchester United went extra time trailing Bayern Munich 1-0. With a European title on the line, substittue Teddy Sheringham broke through in the 91st minute before fellow sub Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s 93rd minute winner. Now United’s two stoppage time goals in Barcelona are the standard for European comebacks.
Today, it was the Germans that were on the right side of fate, though in buildup to the comeback, it looked like it would Málaga keeper Willy Caballero that would wear the cape. The man who stonewalled Dortmund a week ago made spectacular late stops on Marco Reus and Mario Götze, giving the impression destiny was on Málaga’s side. Thanks to goals from Joaquín and Eliseu, the Andalusians looks set to go through, even if Eliseu’s apparent insurance should have been whistled for offside.
Trailing was an apropos position for a Dortmund side that had put themselves behind the game for much of the match. While many expected BVB to come out with an energy that put aside last week’s 0-0, Dortmund instead allowed Málaga to establish a comfortable place in the match. When the Spaniards went up on 25 minutes, it seemed the Miguel Pellegrini-inspired scripts espousing opportunism and resiliency could cast another debutant in the semifinals, even if Robert Lewandowski pulled BVB even by halftime.
But Málaga had their crucial away goal, and when Eliseu guided Júlio Baptista’s ball into goal in the 82nd minute, Dortmund seemed out. Ten minutes and two goals seemed too much to ask from a young team whose naiveté was allowing Málaga to steal this tie.
Perhaps, in the end, that naiveté saved them. Dortmund had no reason to expect they could come back. Not after scoring once in 180 minutes. Not after Caballero had hinted at his impenetrability. Not after Götze and Reus and Lewandowki showed themselves incapable of the razor’s edge finished they’d need to beat Málaga’s keeper. Their edge in talent neutralized over two legs, BVB had no reason but blind ignorance to think a miracle was in the cards.
Ultimately, it was sure will, not precise finishing, that moved Dortmund into the final four. A scramble in the box after a Caballero save allowed Reus to finish from four yards out. Two minutes later, with Caballero on his backside, a shot deflected off a goalline-sitting, potentially offside Felipe Santana put BVB into the final four.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Málaga. They’d executed their plan perfectly, holding out at home only to pounce in Germany, along the way collecting two valuable away goals. Taking advantage of their inexperienced if more skilled adversaries, they’d embodied their coach’s vision, even if they needed some goalkeeping heroics to do so.
After 184 minutes, it wasn’t enough. It took one of the most remarkable comebacks in tournament history to do it, but Málaga was sent out. And Dortmund, with the potentially emboldening experience of having their Champions League lives flash before their eyes, move on to the semifinals.