It's Not About Stars, but 'Echte Liebe': Dortmund Show True Colors in Malaga Win

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2013

Getty Images. Dortmund players climbed the fence to celebrate with fans after the match.
Getty Images. Dortmund players climbed the fence to celebrate with fans after the match.

Dortmund booked their tickets to the Champions League semifinals on Tuesday following a dramatic, last-gasp win against Malaga. The Spanish side had taken the lead through Eliseu with eight minutes left to play, but BVB roared back with injury time goals from Marco Reus and Felipe Santana and advanced with a 3-2 aggregate victory.

"Up until now, our story has been like a Hollywood movie," BVB defender Neven Subotic aptly said after the match.

Indeed, Dortmund's Champions League campaign has been fit for the silver screen. Outsiders in Europe and only in Europe's elite club competition for the second time in the last decade, the Germans were drawn with Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax in the group stage.

But the young and brave Dortmund, whose entire squad cost less than half of what Real paid for the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, captured the hearts of football supporters worldwide as they took their group by storm and finished atop the standings with a game to spare.

Things have been more difficult for BVB since the fall. They twice fell behind Shakhtar Donetsk in the Round of 16 before settling for a 2-2 draw, then hammered the Ukrainian side at home by a 3-0 score.

Dortmund faced their toughest test yet in the quarterfinals, and oddly enough it was against arguably the least formidable side in the last eight. Still, after poor finishing in the first leg, the Ruhr side needed a clean sheet in the second leg against Malaga—if not, they faced a steep uphill battle.

Malaga's Joaquin scored first at the Westfalenstadion, with what was perhaps the visitors' first attack of any substance. BVB needed a goal even after Robert Lewandowski equalized, which is why Eliseu's 82nd-minute strike seemed to be enough to finish off the tie.

Somehow, it wasn't.

For Dortmund, there couldn't have been a more appropriate way to advance than with a furious and desperate flourish in the dying moments. Until the second leg, their entire Champions League campaign had been highlighted by the creativity and technical wizardry of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan. But Gotze squandered three chances in the first leg, and he and Reus each missed out on several chances at the Westfalenstadion. Dortmund needed something different on Tuesday, and they found it in the nick of time.

With respect to their attacking stars, BVB are about more than two or three players. At the core of the club's ethos is the motto: "Echte Liebe" (true love). The players give everything for the club and especially their fans, who have made BVB home games the best-attended matches in Europe. The passion and emotion is objectively stunning.

It was fitting when left-back Marcel Schmelzer, who'd scored just once in his Bundesliga career, struck the winner against Real Madrid in October. The same goes for Felipe Santana, a backup centre-back, when he scored the go-ahead goal against Shakhtar in the Round of 16.

Late in Tuesday's match, Dortmund dug deep and found not magic, but just enough grit and determination to put the ball across the goal line twice. Reus' equalizer was a far cry from the volley he scored at the Santiago Bernabeu, but his tap-in counted just as much. The same goes for Santana bundling the ball in from close range a few moments later.

Controversy will forever surround the result, as both sides scored offside goals. Eliseu was half a yard off for Malaga's second, and Santana's winner also should have been disallowed. BVB would have won the tie 2-1 if both goals were chalked off, but goals can never be treated as isolated incidents and affect coaching decisions and how players perform.

What is much clearer is that football won on Tuesday. With due respect to Malaga's players—who put in a tremendous effort and deserve all the credit in the world for advancing this far—as well as the brilliant coach Manuel Pellegrini, the club's spirit has been twisted and perverted into obscurity.

Owner Abdullah N Al Thani, who after the game accused UEFA of racism, followed in the footsteps of Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour and Nasser Al-Khelaifi in 2011 as he bought a modest club and artificially propped it up with his own funds. His funding has since dried up, and the club has entered a financial crisis.

Malaga were one of several clubs to be hit with harsh sanctions in December. Due to unpaid wages, debts to other clubs and owed taxes to the Spanish government, they were fined €300,000 and banned from UEFA competitions for one season in accordance with Financial Fair Play rules. It's unfair to the players and deeply bitter to fans, but such is the risk that comes with selling out to the highest bidder.

UEFA and football overall needs a club like Dortmund in the last four. Financial Fair Play has received criticism for being a force to maintain the status quo in European football as it hinders the free-spending of emerging sides like PSG, City and Malaga.

That fan-owned Dortmund—a team which turned a €17.5 million profit in the second half of 2012 alone and whose highest paid player reportedly earns a modest €4.6 million per season—are in the last four along with Real Madrid and (if results stand) Bayern and Barcelona is as vindicating for UEFA as it is refreshing for football fans.

Atrocious refereeing aside, the right team advanced from Dortmund vs. Malaga. BVB played the better football over the two legs, and in the end they showed they had not only the skill, but the heart to win. The manner in which they advanced may be critical in what is sure to be an extremely difficult semifinal. 

Subotic was right when he compared Dortmund's Champions League run to a Hollywood film. He added afterward: "Hopefully it will have a Hollywood ending." If it indeed does, Dortmund will have won the Champions League the right way. And football will have reason again to rejoice.

Follow Clark Whitney on Twitter