Borussia Dortmund completed the lineup for the quarter-finals of this year’s Champions League as they saw off Zenit St Petersburg on Wednesday—although it was perhaps not quite the procession some of their fans were expecting.
Leading 4-2 after the first leg, Dortmund returned to the home comforts of the Westfalenstadion with a sizeable advantage, with few observers expecting the Russian side to make much of an attempt at a comeback.
But goals from Hulk and substitute Jose Salomon Rondon either side of half-time enabled Andre Villas-Boas’ new side to win the game 2-1 on the night, with Sebastian Kehl’s first-half equaliser ultimately proving important as Dortmund progressed 5-4 on aggregate.
Last year’s finalists can now look forward to discovering who they will play next in Friday’s draw, while Zenit can embark on their future under new boss Villas-Boas—who opted not to take control of this game from the sidelines following his appointment on Tuesday.
Afterwards, Kehl told reporters (via Reuters):
Zenit had to come forward and they have such quality in attack. We did not have our best match today but we can leave here with a big smile on our face.
I found this atmosphere in the stadium a bit depressing. Maybe they wanted to see a 6-1 win but that does not happen every day.
The first chance of the game may have fallen to the hosts, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang somehow contriving to miss from barely six yards out, but it was actually Zenit who made much of the early running, with Axel Witsel forcing a solid save from Roman Weidenfeller inside the first six minutes.
Zenit continued to pass the ball with intent and created a few openings, but the first goal was all a result of individual brilliance.
Brazilian forward Hulk has been much maligned since his multi-million-pound move to the Russian club but he produced a strike even the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo would be proud of, cutting inside from the right before firing a booming 25-yarder that whistled past Weidenfeller on its way inside the near post.
That left the tie 4-3 on aggregate, with Zenit needing to find two further goals in order to produce a remarkable comeback and qualify for the last eight. In that spirit they continued to attack, with Oleg Shatov narrowly missing the target from an acute angle, but by now Dortmund appeared to have settled and were becoming more and more dangerous.
Robert Lewandowski forced Vyacheslav Malafeev to rush from his goalmouth to clear one opening only moments after picking up a yellow card which suspends him from his next European match.
At that point it remained conceivable that the ban could only come into effect next season when Lewandowski joins Bayern Munich, but soon enough Dortmund grabbed the goal they needed to essentially ensure their progression and at least one more match for Lewandowski in the club's yellow and black.
It was their longest-serving player who got the important strike, as Kehl rose highest to head Marcel Schmelzer’s cross at goal—although Malafeev should perhaps have done better after getting both hands on the attempt.
That gave Dortmund an extra cushion going into half-time, and after the break the focus certainly seemed to be on ensuring there would be no further goals conceded prior to the final whistle.
For the first part of the second period that worked, as Zenit were restricted to just two shots at goal (both from range), with Aubameyang again guilty of wasting the best chance either side could create.
With 20 minutes remaining, however, Zenit again drew within one on aggregate, as substitute Rondon took advantage of some sloppy defending from Sokratis to head home Domenico Criscito’s lovely low cross.
Rondon continued to threaten in the closing 20 minutes, but with Zenit needing to score twice to overcome the away-goal tiebreaker, Dortmund made tactical tweaks to shore up their defensive line and increasingly limited their opponents to over-ambitious final balls or unthreatening attempts from range.
The game was closed out, and Dortmund duly progressed. Yet without Lewandowski for the first leg of their next game, one wonders if they will lack for a cutting edge if they are drawn against one of the competition's standout sides—Real Madrid, for example, or even old foes Bayern Munich.
The lack of squad depth will also be of concern to Jurgen Klopp, although with the motivator on the touchline, Dortmund will remain a treacherous opponent for whomever they are paired with.
“We have had a lot of injuries this season but this result shows we are well prepared," Kehl concluded. "So the season is not as bad as some make it out to be.”
|Borussia Dortmund Player Ratings|
|Zenit St Petersburg Player Ratings|
Borussia Dortmund's next league game is away to Hannover at the weekend, while Villas-Boas will get his reign underway in domestic action at home against Kryliya Sovetov.
The draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions League is on Friday, March 21.