Plotting Borussia Dortmund's Path to the Champions League Final

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2013

Plotting Borussia Dortmund's Path to the Champions League Final

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    After 12 matches showing their qualities and ambition, Borussia Dortmund are set to compete in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League final on Sunday against rival German side Bayern Munich.

    Having started their European campaign back in September and being drawn in the so-called "Group of Champions," Dortmund had a hard job on their hands (according to some) to even qualify for the knockout rounds. Not only did they do that, but they have beaten some of the continent's finest sides en route to making the final.

    Brilliant individualism and collective tactical acumen have both been apparent as one team after another was swept aside, though they will perhaps face their biggest test of all in the final against the side who has just re-claimed the domestic title in record time.

    Dortmund will also be without star playmaker Mario Gotze due to injury (via UEFA.com), but attacking full-back Lukasz Piszczek will be available, with his own surgery due to take place after the final itself (via UEFA.com).

    It has been an exhilarating and amazing European journey over the past 12 months at Dortmund. Here is a recap of their entire path to the final showdown at Wembley, from start to finish.

Qualification by Winning 2011-12 German Bundesliga Title

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    Dortmund won their second straight domestic title by finishing eight points clear atop the German Bundesliga in 2011-12, with Bayern Munich (second) and Schalke (third) both failing to keep pace.

    The first-place finish ensured they would go straight into the group stages of the Champions League for 2012-13, without the need of a playoff match. Dortmund lost only three league games all season, scoring 80 goals in the process.

    During the summer of 2012, they strengthened their squad with the signings of Marco Reus and Julian Schieber in particular, while former midfielder Nuri Sahin re-joined on loan in the January transfer window. Ivan Perisic, Shinji Kagawa, Florian Kringe and Lucas Barrios were amongst the departures.

Group D: Victory over Ajax, a Draw in Manchester

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    Dortmund left it late, but they did start their Champions League group campaign in positive fashion.

    Having been drawn alongside the champions of Holland (Ajax), Spain (Real Madrid) and England (Manchester City), it was seen as imperative that BVB get off to a good start and especially pick up victories in their home matches.

    Ajax were the first opposition and it looked as though they might have missed their opportunity to win after Mats Hummels missed a penalty, but Robert Lewandowski scored in the 87th minute to take all three points.

    Soon after, Dortmund travelled to England to play Manchester City and found themselves disappointed by an even later goal. Marco Reus looked to have set his team on the way to three away points and two wins out of two, but a cooly taken 90th-minute penalty from Mario Balotelli ensured the teams left equal.

Group D: Back-to-Back Impressive Performances Against Real Madrid

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    The halfway point and instant turnaround in the Champions League group stages this time meant that Real Madrid visited Germany and then hosted Dortmund within two weeks.

    A fantastic performance and 2-1 victory at home, thanks to goals from Lewandowski and Marcel Schmelzer on either side of a Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser, meant that Dortmund topped the group with seven points from their three matches.

    Into early November and the return fixture saw Dortmund twice take the lead, but yet again, a late goal in the group denied them all three points. Reus added another goal to his tally and, after Pepe's equaliser, Alvaro Arbeloa scored an own goal. But a famous win in Madrid was denied when Mesut Ozil scored a last-minute free-kick.

    Even so, Dortmund remained one point clear at the top of the group with only two games to play, putting them in a strong position for qualification.

Group D: Consecutive Wins to Finish Top

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    The visit to Holland for the away fixture against Ajax was the key to Dortmund sealing top spot.

    The Dutch side had taken four points from the double-header against Manchester City, so a positive result at home against Dortmund would put them right back in the running for qualification themselves.

    Dortmund were in no mood to allow anything of the sort, though, and trounced Ajax 4-1 on their own ground. Reus, Mario Gotze and a Lewandowski brace put the Germans out of sight by the 70-minute mark, and only a late effort from Daniel Hoesen gave Ajax some consolation.

    To top off a very convincing group stage, Dortmund beat Man City 1-0 at home. Schieber got the only goal of the game, leaving Dortmund top of Group D on 14 points, undefeated in all six games, and leaving City bottom and winless.

Round of 16: Shakhtar Donetsk

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    The first leg of the Round of 16 clash against Shakhtar Donetsk was a back-and-forth affair, and though Dortmund were far from at their best, they came away with a credible draw and two away goals.

    Darijo Srna scored for the home side before Lewandowski's equaliser, but Douglas Costa restored the Ukrainians' lead midway through the second half. Hummels, who hadn't had his best game ever, scored the second leveller with a header just three minutes from time.

    The second leg was a much more comfortable affair for the Germans, who took the lead after half an hour and never looked back. Just a few minutes after Felipe Santana's opening goal, Gotze scored the second. Jakub Blaszczykowski wrapped things up with half an hour to go.

    Finishing 3-0 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate, Dortmund made comfortable progression to the quarterfinals.

Quarterfinals: Epic Finish vs. Malaga

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    Dortmund were up against Spanish side Malaga in the quarterfinals and it is fair to say that the first leg, which ended 0-0, was an absolute polar opposite of what was to come in the second leg.

    The return match in Germany saw one of the most amazing late turnarounds in the competition's history, after Malaga had themselves found the back of the net twice.

    Joaquin's low strike after 25 minutes opened the scoring, but Lewandowski scored before the break to level matters. With time running out and Dortmund having dominated possession and shots during the match, Eliseu scored a second for Malaga. That second away goal meant Dortmund had only eight minutes to score two goals or else elimination from the Champions League beckoned.

    An extraordinary finish ensued as Dortmund delighted their home crowd. Marco Reus and Felipe Santana both scored close-range injury-time goals to break Malaga's hearts and hopes and set up a semifinal meeting with group stage opponents Real Madrid.

Semifinals: Lewi's 4 and More Late Drama vs. Real Madrid

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    Lewandowski, Lewandowski, Lewandowski, Lewandowski.

    The Polish striker was in irresistible form in the penalty area during Dortmund's first leg of the semifinal against Real Madrid, as he bagged all four goals in a thumping 4-1 win.

    Borussia Dortmund out-fought, out-played and out-thought Real Madrid as they took a firm grip on the tie at the Westfalenstadion, with the Spanish side utterly unable to make a significant impact on the scoreline. Cristiano Ronaldo briefly levelled matters before the break, but Dortmund were full value for their three-goal lead.

    In the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real huffed and puffed without ever really looking likely to threaten Dortmund's lead—until two goals in the final seven minutes of the game from Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos had Dortmund suddenly on the back foot and holding on for dear life as Real searched out an unlikely killer third, which would have seen them through on away goals.

    It didn't come. Borussia Dortmund held on for long enough, and now only a final at Wembley against Bayern Munich stands between them and the ultimate glorious destination which started a year ago.