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Borussia Dortmund’s Previous Journeys to the Champions League Final

Borussia Dortmund reached the Champions League final after 11 years in its 3rd appearance. In this article, we review their last two journeys.

Borussia Dortmund surprised many in this season’s UEFA Champions League. They began the competition in the “group of death” alongside PSG, Milan, and Newcastle. Despite most experts and fans counting them out, Edin Terzic’s boys advanced as group winners.

In the knockout stages, they first faced PSV Eindhoven, who would go on to win the Dutch league that season, defeating them 2-0 in Germany after a 1-1 draw in the Netherlands. In the quarter-finals, they played an exciting tie against Atletico Madrid, advancing 5-4 on aggregate. Dortmund’s semi-final opponent was PSG, who were favorites with a star-studded squad including Mbappe. However, Dortmund, led by Mats Hummels’ outstanding performances, won both legs 1-0 to set up a final against Real Madrid.

Photo via REUTERS by Sarah Meyssonnier

Borussia Dortmund’s Past Journeys to the Champions League Final

Borussia Dortmund has reached the UEFA Champions League final twice before this year. The first time was with Ottmar Hitzfeld in 1997, when they beat a powerful Juventus side that was the defending champion. The second time was with Jurgen Klopp in 2013, when they lost to Bayern Munich in a close and exciting match. Let’s take a look at the Dortmund team in those seasons and the paths they took to the final.

1996-1997 Season: Beating the Beasts with Ottmar Hitzfeld

Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Borussia Dortmund had reclaimed the pinnacle of German football after three decades, winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons. Now, they sought to extend their dominance in Germany to the European stage.

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In the 1996-97 season, Dortmund retained their core squad to build on their previous successes. Stefan Klos was the reliable goalkeeper, with Matthias Sammer playing as a libero in a three-man defense. Jürgen Kohler was a mainstay at the back, often partnered by Martin Kree and occasionally by Carsten Wolters.

On the flanks, Stefan Reuter and Jorg Heinrich provided width and contributed significantly to both defense and attack. In central midfield, the dynamic duo of Paulo Sousa and Paul Lambert brought a blend of creativity and destructive power, with Andreas Möller operating as the classic number 10, providing goals and assists.

Up front, Stefan Chapuisat led the line as the main striker, with Karl-Heinz Riedle and Lars Ricken alternating alongside him. On the bench, Dortmund boasted a strong supporting cast, including Rene Schneider, Rene Tretschok, Michael Zorc, Vladimir But, Heiko Herrlich, and Dennis Weiland, who could be called upon to make an impact when needed.

Photo via Thesefootballtimes

Road to the Final

Dortmund was drawn into a group with Atlético Madrid, the reigning La Liga champions, Steaua Bucharest, and Widzew Łódź from Poland. They advanced as the second-place team with 13 points and a goal difference behind Atlético Madrid.

In the quarter-finals, Dortmund faced Auxerre. In the first leg at Westfalen, Dortmund won 3-1 with goals from Riedle, Schneider, and Muller, giving them a comfortable lead in the tie. They also won the second leg in France with a single goal from Lars Ricken, resulting in a 4-1 aggregate victory.

In the semi-finals, their opponent was Manchester United, who, alongside Juventus, was considered one of the favorites to win the Champions League. At Westfalen, the Black and Yellows emerged victorious with a 76th-minute goal from René Tretschok. In the second leg at Old Trafford, Lars Ricken put Dortmund ahead in the 7th minute, meaning United needed three goals to advance to the final. However, Dortmund’s resilient defense held firm, and the game ended without any further goals.

Dortmund reached the Champions League final for the first time in their history. They faced Juventus, the defending champions who were at the peak of their powers and considered the best team in Europe at that moment. However, the fact that Dortmund had not conceded a goal in 180 minutes against United gave Ottmar Hitzfeld and his team a boost in confidence.

The Final in Berlin

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These two teams had previously faced off in the 1993 UEFA Cup Final, with Juventus claiming a 6-1 aggregate victory. Jürgen Kohler and Andreas Möller, who played for Dortmund in this Champions League final, were on the Juventus side in that earlier encounter. Additionally, Paulo Sousa and Stefan Reuter, part of the current Dortmund squad, had also played for Juventus. This tactical advantage played into Dortmund’s hands, and they made good use of it. Furthermore, the final was held at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, a venue Dortmund was more familiar with.

Juventus started the game stronger, but Dortmund made it difficult for Marcello Lippi’s men by closing down spaces effectively. Against the run of play, Dortmund took the lead in the 29th minute through a precise shot from Karl-Heinz Riedle, who latched onto a cross from Paul Lambert inside the six-yard box. Just five minutes later, Dortmund extended their lead from a corner, with Riedle heading in a cross from Andreas Möller. Surprisingly and against all odds, the first half ended with the Germans leading 2-0.

In the second half, Alessandro Del Piero, who had started on the bench due to injury, came on and pulled one back for Juventus in the 66th minute with a stunning backheel finish. However, the real drama unfolded just six minutes later. Lars Ricken, who had come on for Chapuisat, scored with his first touch, beating the advancing Angelo Peruzzi to dampen Juventus’ hopes of a comeback. It was the fastest goal ever scored by a substitute in a Champions League final. The memorable final ended 3-1, and Dortmund lifted the Champions League trophy for the first time in their history.

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The Aftermath

This final would go down in history as one of the most tactical matches in Champions League history, with Ottmar Hitzfeld’s strategy of using Paul Lambert to limit Zinedine Zidane’s influence being taught in coaching courses.

At the end of the season, Ottmar Hitzfeld stepped down as Dortmund’s coach and took on the role of the team’s sporting director. Nevio Scala became Dortmund’s new coach. In the transfer window, they sold Paul Lambert and Paulo Sousa but failed to find adequate replacements for the two central midfielders. This marked the beginning of the team’s decline, and they finished 10th in the Bundesliga. Hitzfeld also took over as Bayern Munich’s coach in 1998 and brought the Bavarians back to glory.

2012-2013 Season: Klopp’s Crescendo

Borussia Dortmund, having won consecutive titles with Jurgen Klopp, faced a formidable obstacle in Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich this season and fell out of the Bundesliga title race early on. They shifted their focus to the Champions League to make up for last year’s disappointment (group-stage elimination). And that’s exactly what happened, as one of Dortmund’s most memorable European campaigns unfolded.

Photo via Thesefootballtimes

Dortmund had a well-balanced squad that season, playing attractive football. Roman Weidenfeller was a reliable goalkeeper, with a defensive line composed of Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, and Lukasz Piszczek. These players had developed great cohesion, and Hummels, in particular, stood out as Dortmund’s star defender and one of the best in the world at the time. Brazilian Felipe Santana was another option at center-back.

Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender started as central midfielders for Die Schwarzgelben, with experienced Sebastian Kehl and Nuri Sahin, on loan from Real Madrid, as additional options. Up front, they had the in-form and lethal striker Robert Lewandowski, with stars Marco Reus and Mario Gotze playing behind him alongside Jakub Blaszczykowski or Kevin Grosskreutz.

Road to the Final

Dortmund found themselves in the ‘group of death’ alongside Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Ajax. They surprised football fans and experts by topping the group without losing a single game. Dortmund beat Real Madrid 2-1 at Signal Iduna Park and drew 2-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

In the round of 16, Dortmund faced Shakhtar Donetsk and, after a 2-2 draw in Ukraine, won 3-0 at home to advance to the quarterfinals. They met Malaga and in the first leg, they dominated possession but could only manage a 0-0 draw. In the return leg, Dortmund found themselves trailing 2-1 until the dying minutes when Klopp made a crucial tactical shift to direct play, utilizing Mats Hummels as a playmaker. Marco Reus equalized in the 91st minute, and Felipe Santana scored the winner in the 93rd minute to complete a dramatic comeback.

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In the semifinals, Dortmund faced a familiar opponent in Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. In the first leg, Robert Lewandowski opened the scoring, but a careless mistake by Hummels allowed Ronaldo to equalize with an assist from Higuain. However, the real drama happened in the second half. Lewandowski put on a stunning individual display, scoring a hat-trick within 16 minutes, as Dortmund defeated the Spanish giants 4-1. The Polish striker’s performance in this game is regarded as one of the best individual displays in Champions League history.

In the second leg, Dortmund had their chances, with the game tied at 0-0, despite intense pressure from Real Madrid. In the final ten minutes, they conceded two goals but still won the tie 4-3 on aggregate to reach the Champions League final for the first time in 16 years.

The Final in Wembley

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Dortmund faced Bayern Munich, who were considered the strongest team in Europe at the time, in an all-German final. The Bavarians had crushed Juventus and Barcelona with aggregate scores of 4-0 and 7-0, respectively, on their way to the final. Wembley Stadium hosted a thrilling match on May 25, 2013, regarded as one of the most beautiful and high-quality finals in recent decades.

In the first half, especially the opening 25 minutes, Dortmund dominated, with Manuel Neuer being Bayern’s best player. He made five crucial saves, including two from Lewandowski and one from Blaszczykowski, ensuring a goalless first half. At the other end, Roman Weidenfeller denied both Mario Mandzukic and Arjen Robben.

In the second half, Bayern took the lead in the 60th minute through Mandzukic, who finished off a combination play between Franck Ribery and Robben. However, just eight minutes later, Dante’s foul on Marco Reus resulted in a penalty for Dortmund, which Ilkay Gundogan calmly converted to level the score at 1-1, giving Dortmund renewed hope.

As the game progressed, Weidenfeller and Subotic made crucial saves to keep Dortmund in the game, but in the dying minutes, Arjen Robben broke through the defense, receiving a pass from Ribéry and calmly slotting the ball past Weidenfeller to seal the deal for Bayern.

Photo via picture alliance / sampics by Christina Pahnke

The Aftermath

Following the match, Jurgen Klopp acknowledged that his team had a challenging season and that the players were exhausted in the final 15 minutes. He praised his team’s overall performance against the best side in Europe and believed they deserved respect. Mats Hummels also reflected on the painful defeat, stating that it was a bitter loss and that the team should have capitalized on their early dominance and chances.

This season and Dortmund’s thrilling European adventure marked the pinnacle of Klopp’s era at the club. The following season, they finished as Bundesliga runners-up again and were eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid. Klopp’s tenure at Dortmund came to an end after a disappointing subsequent season, where they finished eighth in the Bundesliga, leaving Dortmund fans forever wondering what could have been had they taken their chances in the Wembley final.

Alex Lundy
Alex Lundy
A lifelong football fan, Alex loves to dabble in its history, especially FIFA World Cup. But his love for sports doesn't end at football since he loves watching NBA and Formula1 too. Reading novels and watching classic films takes the rest of his time.


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