The scoreboard said the visitors had lost 2-0, but that hardly mattered. On the strength of last week's stunning rout, Dortmund were headed to the UEFA Champions League final on May 25—likely against fellow German side Bayern Munich.
In control for more than 80 minutes in the intimidating atmosphere of the Estadio Bernabeu, Borussia Dortmund needed every defensive interception and fingertip save as Real Madrid came alive in the final moments of the match.
Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos scored in the space of five minutes to set up a wild finish, but Dortmund survived, losing 2-0 on the night but—much more importantly—winning the two-legged semifinal tie 4-3 on aggregate.
For Dortmund, it's the high point of a campaign that has been disappointing at times, deliriously exciting at others and often no less than inspired.
Bundesliga champions each of the previous two seasons, Borussia Dortmund were swept aside by Bayern Munich with frightening ease this term as the Bavarians romped to the title in record-breaking style. Dortmund's European adventure, however, has been much more fulfilling—and dramatic.
Along the way, Dortmund have produced both the impressive and the improbable. Jurgen Klopp's inexperienced side won Group D, the so-called "Group of Death," despite the presence of big names like Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax. Along with last week's stunning 4-1 destruction of Real Madrid, there was also an unlikely escape against Malaga in the previous round.
This time, Dortmund almost became the victims of a late escape. And if not for some poor finishing on the part of Real Madrid in the first half, the result might have been much different.
Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho opted to start Luka Modric alongside Xabi Alonso in the holding midfield, presumably so that the more mobile Modric would prevent Alonso from being marked out of the match. Michael Essien, meanwhile, filled in for the injured Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back.
For Borussia Dortmund, Lukasz Piszczek returned to his right-back position after missing the weekend win at Fortuna Dusseldorf. More ominously for Real, Robert Lewandowski started atop Dortmund's formation after his stunning four-goal performance last week in Germany.
Real threatened early, nearly taking the lead in the fourth minute. Mesut Ozil picked out Gonzalo Higuain in the box, but the Argentine was unable to beat Roman Weidenfeller one-on-one. Cristiano Ronaldo blasted a shot over the bar in the ninth minute as Real staked out positions around Dortmund's box.
The teams then traded chances at either end. Lewandowski controlled a ball into the box with his chest and turned to fire at Diego Lopez. At the other end, Angel Di Mario picked out Ronaldo, who chested down a long pass and poked a shot off Weidenfeller. Seconds later, Higuain freed Ozil on the right, but Ozil's left-footed shot was wide of the near post.
Dortmund suffered a further blow when Mario Gotze limped off in the 14th minute with a hamstring injury. The tone of the match—if not the scoreboard—seemed to be favoring Real's chances for a comeback.
By then, 15 minutes into the match, Real had already missed three chances—three chances that if converted would have leveled the tie at 4-4 on aggregate. Through the first 25 minutes, Madrid held more than 65 percent of possession and limited Dortmund to a 68 percent pass-completion rate with their high-tempo, aggressive approach.
But then Real's advantage disappeared. In the first 20 minutes, the hosts produced seven shots, including two that hit the target. In the next 20, they had only one shot, which missed the target (h/t FourFourTwo).
Dortmund, by contrast, settled after Real's opening flurry and grew into the game as the half petered out. Early in the second half, the visitors had their best chance yet as Lewandowski cranked a shot off the crossbar after Marco Reus found space in the midfield.
Mourinho shuffled his formation in the 57th minute, introducing midfielder Kaká for defender Fabio Coentrao while swapping Higuain for another striker in Benzema. With the hosts changing to a three-man defense, more space opened up for Dortmund, who produced the game's next big chance.
Reus found space on the right side of Real's box and crossed for Ilkay Gundogan, whose short-range shot was saved by Lopez. Had he aimed for a corner, Gundogan would have ended the tie decisively. As it was, the match was wobbling toward an uninspired finish.
(GIF via Fox Soccer Channel broadcast)
But Real weren't done, and instead, Mourinho's men embarked on a frenzied fight back.
Benzema finally put Real on the scoresheet in the 82nd minute, slamming a high shot past Weidenfeller from Ozil's low cross. Ramos then doubled the lead five minutes later with a crashing shot of his own into the roof of the net.
But as stirring as they were, the goals proved no more than taunting consolation, and Real were left to regret their missed opportunities. And despite the nervy late letdown, the result will suit Dortmund nicely after last week's demolition.
From here, Dortmund's continental adventure is only one step from ultimate glory. It seems inevitable that their foe in the final must be Bayern, and that is a matchup both teams would surely relish.