Borussia Dortmund edged Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 in Tuesday's DFB-Pokal quarterfinals clash at the Commerzbank-Arena, a thoroughly entertaining fixture that reminded fans just how competitive and passionate German football can be.
The match came nine days after Frankfurt capitulated against Bayern Munich, even before the opening kick-off. Key players Sebastian Rode and Carlos Zambrano were fit to play in that match, but nonetheless left out of the team to avoid injury or a booking that would for either player result in a suspension.
It was a pragmatic decision by coach Armin Veh to avoid risking his stars, but one that was previously unprecedented and sent a troubling message of inevitability: It wasn't even worth the effort for the visitors to try, to reward the fans who had faithfully traveled to the Allianz Arena. Frankfurt lost 5-0.
Tuesday's match was different, a one-off that meant so much more than an ordinary Bundesliga fixture. Frankfurt need to be careful to avoid slipping into the relegation zone, but otherwise have nothing to play for in league play, so they were able to confidently play at full intensity. The same went for Dortmund, except their floor in the Bundesliga is fourth place.
With just three wins separating them from hoisting the DFB-Pokal, both teams played with the energy, intensity and passion that has come to characterize German football. It was a robust match from the start, with Zambrano and Robert Lewandowski in particular feuding throughout the 90 minutes.
Frankfurt showed much more fight than they did in the Bayern match, and perhaps ought to have won. Rode most notably missed a few clear-cut chances and BVB looked increasingly frustrated before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang nodded in the winner with seven minutes left. Frankfurt gave every effort possible but couldn't quite equalize and were disappointed to be eliminated.
Dortmund are now as little as 180 minutes from lifting what in all likelihood would be their only title this May and second of the 2013-14 season following the DFB-Superpokal. There are no easy hurdles from now on: Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and of course Bayern are still alive, and as we saw on Tuesday, even mid-table Frankfurt are capable of pushing BVB to the limit. Even if Kaiserslautern, Hoffenheim or Hamburg manage to advance and are drawn with Dortmund, the Ruhr side won't find it easy.
The fact that the tournament is a one-off makes every Pokal match dangerous for BVB, but also gives Klopp's side a chance to win. Dortmund lost the Bundesliga by 25 points last season and are 17 points behind Bayern in the current campaign. BVB simply are no match for the Bavarians in an endurance race—their depth is not enough to keep a rotation of fully fresh players.
However, should they face Bayern in the next round or the final, Dortmund will have a chance. If a very ordinary Frankfurt side could push them to the limit, they can do the same to Bayern and perhaps hoist the Pokal. It's somewhat of a long shot and will depend on available squads, but as they showed in last summer's Superpokal, if BVB are at full strength, they can contend even with Europe's best.