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Champions League: Wolfsburg revel in unfamiliar underdog role

Few had given Wolfsburg a chance of getting a result in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie against Real Madrid. But it seems the unfamiliar role of underdog suited the Wolves.

For most German football fans these days, seeing Wolfsburg as plucky underdogs would likely be something of a stretch.

The sheer financial power of the club, due to its links with main sponsor Volkswagen, means many see any success they have as an example of money triumphing over history - and a fan base. But when the German side played in their first Champions League quarterfinal against 10 time -European champions Real Madrid, there was no doubt that they would be cast in the role of poor cousins for a change.

Last year's Bundesliga runners-up and German Cup winners had been tipped to enjoy another successful season but have struggled domestically. Last Friday's 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen, dubbed "el Plastico" in some quarters as a result of both club's corporate ties, was a low point in a disappointing campaign.

As a result, the mood among Wolfsburg fans in the city before the Wednesday night's game was a little gloomy. The handful of green-shirted supporters milling around near the central station were vastly outnumbered by hundreds of Real Madrid fans who had gathered outside of the Spanish side's hotel hours before kick off.

Champions League VfL Wolfsburg - Real Madrid

Wolfsburg's player showed great unity in their 2-0 win

The fact that a significant proportion of those Madrid fans spoke German served as proof, if any were needed, that Madrid's global power and reach far outweighs that of their last eight opponent.

"I'm not really convinced we have a chance against Madrid," said Finn, a Wolfsburg fan attending the game with his sons. "I think it is already over but at least we have these two nice games. They are such a strong attacking team I think I'll be happy whenever we get in to their half."

If the mood outside the Volkswagen Arena was pessimistic, the mood inside the stadium at kick off turned out to be quite the opposite. The "Nordkurve," occupied by the most dedicated of Wolfsburg fans, belted out their repertoire of songs early on in an attempt to rouse their team for one of the biggest game's in the club's history.

In the early stages of the game it looked as if those efforts were in vain as Real - fresh from a win over Barcelona - created some very presentable chances, the best of which was spurned by Karim Benzema. Shortly afterwards, a Cristiano Ronaldo goal was disallowed for offside.

VfL Wolfsburg - Real Madrid

The German side hope their victory will kick start their season

But the home team maintained their belief and stormed back into the game, scoring twice in seven minutes through a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty and a nicely worked move finished by Max Arnold.

The first goal saw a wave of confidence surge through the hosts. It seemed as if being the underdogs suited them, as if the absence of pressure that comes with being favorites for most domestic fixtures gave the players a lift.

And the crowd responded by turning up the volume another notch. The home team were given a standing ovation at halftime and after the break, when one might have expected Wolfsburg to struggle to maintain their lead, all four sides of the sold-out ground joined in song. Not bad for a fan base sometimes accused of lacking passion and failing to show up.

When the final whistle blew, after a short delay following an interruption from a particularly athletic pitch invader, there were jubilant scenes on the pitch as the players and fans found their love for each other rekindled after a difficult time.

As those clad in green and white filtered on to the concourse to make their way home after a memorable night, disbelief, along with joy, appeared to be the most prominent sentiments.

"In our hearts maybe we could have imagined or wished for a win like this, but with our heads we never would have expected it," said longtime Wolves fan Peter.

VfL Wolfsburg - Real Madrid

Ricardo Rodriguez's penalty broke the deadlock

But mixed with surprise was the feeling that the win could act as a springboard for a strong end to the season, as another fan, Dagmar, suggested.

"It's like a miracle," she said. "We really believe we can make it because now in the second leg we only need to score one goal and they will need four."

As the exhausted, but happy, home players spoke to reporters after the game, goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was also keen to use Wednesday's display as a template for improvement.

"I think the way we played tonight was really the example of how we should play the next games," he told DW.

“Of course we won't play the same every game but if we can reach somewhere near the performance tonight, then I think we have a good chance to take a step forward in the next games and have better results than in the past.”

The job may be only half done but Wolfsburg have given themselves a genuine shot at a Champions League semifinal berth. And when their fans have shaken off their sore heads and look towards Saturday's home game with Mainz, they'll be hoping that after this surprising performance, the favorite tag will rest a bit easier on the Wolves' shoulders.

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