Borussia Dortmund have narrowly edged past Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 to advance in the German Cup. A late goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made sure BVB are still in contention for one domestic trophy this season.
With Bayern Munich 13 points clear atop the Bundesliga table, the German Cup is the only domestic trophy truly up for grabs this season. Dortmund thus arrived for the quarterfinal duel in Frankfurt on Tuesday night well aware of the pressure on them to advance.
Jürgen Klopp played as much of a full strength side as he could against Frankfurt, but with Marco Reus and Sven Bender being the latest additions to Dortmund's exceedingly long list of injuries, he had a less-than ideal team to work with.
Captain Sebastian Kehl returned to the starting lineup in the center of midfield, while all-rounder Kevin Grosskreutz slotted in along side Robert Lewandowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the attack.
Frankfurt coach Armin Veh had injury troubles of his own to deal with – most notably the absence of captain Pirmin Schwegler – meaning the affair at the Commerzbank-Arena was guaranteed to be aggressive.
Looking for a goal
Frankfurt dominated possession early in the match, but they struggled to create chances. Bayern-bound midfielder Sebastian Rode did his best to inspire the hosts in the final third, but defender Sokratis was quick to clear any danger from the Dortmund box.
When Frankfurt did get forward, their turnovers would often spur a dangerous Dortmund counterattack. It was just such an attack that set up Henrikh Mkhitaryan for BVB's most-dangerous opportunity of the first half.
Racing down the left wing, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang crossed to Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian's shot from the top of the box went just wide.
Manuel Friedrich and Kevin Grosskreutz both drew good saves from Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp later in the half, while Rode's failure to connect in front of goal was the glaring missed opportunity of the opening period of play.
The two sides went into the break tied at 0-0, with each side wishing they'd made more of their opportunities.
Dortmund nab winner
Frankfurt defender Carlos Zambrano was lucky to escape unpunished near the hour mark when he took down Robert Lewandowski from behind with his elbow. The two had an ongoing duel all night, but neither managed to receive any serious condemnation from referee Knut Kircher.
The sour feelings between Zambrano and Lewandowski soon spread to nearly every player on the pitch. As the match grew more heated, Kircher responded by doling out more yellow cards.
The rough play looked increasingly less likely to produce a goal and extra time seemed the likely outcome until Aubameyang's winner in the 83rd minute.
Mkhitaryan's corner was flicked on by Kehl, and Aubameyang was there at the far post to beat Rode and nod home the match's only goal of the evening.
The 1-0 result dumps Frankfurt out of the German Cup, keeping them from reaching the semifinals for the seventh season running.
"In the Cup it's only about advancing and we didn't do that," Frankfurt's Alexander Meier told broadcaster ARD after the match.
Frankfurt can, however, take solace in knowing they are still alive in one more knockout competition. They face off against fabled side Porto in the Europa League Round of 32 on February 20.
Frankfurt coach Veh was visibly upset afterwards with how rough the match had become, particularly what he viewed as the Dortmund players' provocation of Zambrano. "It's not ok," he said.
Dortmund, meanwhile, are into their first semifinals since they won the competition in 2012.
"Obviously we're very happy. It was a difficult game," Dortmund Sport Director Michael Zorc told Sky. "[Frankfurt] are always dangerous. We had to defend ourselves. We want to go to Berlin."
The German Cup resumes tomorrow with three matches. Hoffenheim host Wolfsburg, the competition's lone-remaining second-tier side Kaiserslautern travel to Bayer Leverkusen, while embattled Hamburg welcome the mighty Bayern Munich.