Borussia Dortmund have made the Champions League quarterfinals despite a 2-1 home defeat to Zenit St. Petersburg. Dortmund join Bayern Munich and six others in the pot for the next round.
Borussia Dortmund's roughly 80,000-strong Signal Iduna Park fortress seems to have had its moat drained and portcullis raised in recent weeks. Coach Jürgen Klopp's side lost their third home game of their last four on Wednesday against visiting Zenit St. Petersburg - a side they had rolled over 4-2 on their travels to Russia two weeks ago.
The 2-1 defeat, on a nervy night for the fabled Yellow Wall of fans, was still enough for Dortmund to progress 5-4 on aggregate. They join Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid and Paris St. Germain in the quarterfinal pot.
Club captain Sebastian Kehl and home favorite Kevin Grosskreutz turned some of the attention to the home fans themselves after the defeat, urging fans to offer more support as the injury-ridden squad struggles to compete on three fronts.
"I don't like it [the atmosphere] at all just at the moment: the moans and groans every time we lose the ball," Grosskreutz said on ZDF public television after the game. Kehl similarly spoke of a "gloomy atmosphere" - not the adjective that typically leaps to mind to describe the Dortmund back garden. Following the home defeat to the rival Bundesliga "Borussia" from Mönchengladbach at the weekend, fans might have hoped for a more emphatic statement from their team.
The most memorable moment of the night surely hailed from Hulk, Zenit's Brazilian powerhouse roaming the right flank. In a typically determined dribble, he wriggled free of Marcel Schmelzer and cut inside from the flank. Allowed space, Hulk wound up and shot from distance with his left foot, the unstoppable shot curled away from Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller into the top corner.
This sixteenth minute opener put a modicum of pressure on the hosts despite their first leg lead.
Schmelzer had a busy night at left-back, as he combined the thankless task or marking Hulk in defense with serving as one of Dortmund's brightest attacking outlets on the flank. The German World Cup aspirant set up the home side's equalizer late in the first half; picking out captain Kehl with a curling cross. Kehl rose highest to head at goal, Vyacheslav Malafeev got a glove to the low header but could not push the ball wide of the post.
With purpose, if not pretty
Dortmund came out of the dressing room in the second half with a clear game plan - to take control of the ball and play a more possession-based game than the run-and-gun style often associated with the team. It might not have satisfied the home fans, or made for pleasant viewing, but the hosts were able to wile away some time.
Zenit, meanwhile, never really seemed to abandon all defensive duties and go for broke. Needing three second-half goals to progress, the club did at least bring on Venezuelan striker Jose Rondon for the final half hour. With 72 minutes played, Rondon was able to beat Weidenfeller - capitalizing on a blackout by central defensive pairing Mats Hummels and Sokratis. Neither Dortmund defender tracked Rondon into the box as Italian Domenico Criscito crossed in low. Rondon beat Weidenfeller to the ball by diving in to head past the German veteran in goal.
Even after Rondon scored, Zenit would have required another two goals to progress. Dortmund were able to keep the much-improved guests at bay and book their ticket to the Champions League quarterfinals - quite an achievement for a side still suffering form an lengthy injury list and patchy form.
Schmelzer concern, Lewandowski suspension
Yet in keeping with Dortmund's season, where every silver lining still seems to have its accompanying cloud - usually involving injury to an important defender - Schmlezer limped off clutching his groin late in the match. Klopp will also have to plan for a Champions League quarterfinal first leg without star striker Robert Lewandowski - who picked up a yellow card for handball in the first half and thus faces a one-match suspension in Europe.
In Wednesday's other Champions League match, Manchester United striker Robin van Persie hit a hattrick against Olympiacos, turning around a two-goal first-leg deficit almost single-handedly. Van Persie scored two in the first half, the opener from the penalty spot, and netted his third with a direct free kick soon after the break.
The Champions League quarterfinal draw will take place on Friday.