In the hours before kick-off in the 78th German Cup final, RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann received a message of encouragement from his new employers in Munich.
"I have to admit, I’m partial," said Oliver Kahn. "Winning the cup before you come to Munich isn’t such a bad idea."
Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was also happy to take sides. "He hasn’t won a title yet, and I know from experience, coaches want to win titles," he said.
Dortmund’s Edin Terzic, though, was also a coach out to win titles. And so were his players. And perhaps the intervention of the non-combatant Bayern bosses served only to motivate the wrong side.
Dortmund certainly looked fired up. Spearheaded by the tireless Erling Haaland —whose determination to impress himself on the game was evident in his every move — they grabbed the Red Bulls by the horns right from the whistle. Sancho’s opener in the fifth minute was the culmination of an attacking move that buzzed with energy and intent.
Questions like, why didn’t Leipzig see it coming? Why were they — the best defense in the league — unable to get tighter to the man who they knew to be so lethal? And why was the oh-so-innovative tactician on the sidelines unable to come up with a solution for the most obvious danger his side faced?
The brute force of Erling Haaland — who dumped Dayot Upamecano onto the ground before turning and slotting past Peter Gulasci — made the second goal possible. The third on the stroke of halftime was different.
Upamecano sought his revenge, flying into Haaland on the halfway line. His efforts earned him a yellow card, but failed to stop Dortmund's advance. Reus carried the ball forward before squaring to a waiting Sancho.
As he gratefully slotted home, the Dortmund delegation erupted into boisterous cheers, which echoed around the empty expanse of the Olympiastadion — an intimate taster of the explosive celebrations that might have been.
Different half, different Leipzig
The halftime introduction of Yussuf Poulsen and Christopher Nkunku gave Leipzig an edge they’d been missing.
But it was too little, too late, and above all served to emphasize the gravity of Nagelsmann's first-half errors. Neither Dani Olmo’s surprise wonderstrike nor Haaland’s second at the end of an exasperated counterattack would make any real difference to anything but the scoreline. The real damage had already been done, the decisive blows long since struck.
Dortmund have finished an up-and-down season with a serious, if somewhat surprising, flourish. Terzic has quietly guided his best players back to form, and his own stock as a coach has undoubtedly risen as a result.
For Leipzig, two finals in two years have now both ended in comprehensive, deserved defeat. And for Nagelsmann, and by extension for Bayern, the signs are even more concerning.
"Dortmund did a lot with not many chances and we didn't do much with many chances. I don't think we were worse than the opposition," Nagelsmann said afterwards.
Granted, the RB coach came up against exceptional talents in Sancho and Haaland, but at the highest level, exceptional talents abound: they’re no longer the exception. Rummenigge and Kahn have long known how to deal with that challenge. If their new coach Nagelsmann is to succeed, he too must learn — and fast.
German Cup Final: RB Leipzig vs. Borussia Dortmund — re live:
German Cup Final: RB Leipzig vs. Borussia Dortmund — re live:
Speaking to Sky, here is what Marco Reus had to say:
"So proud of the performance."
"He [Terzic] has done such a great job and we have supported him from day one. Like I said, when we have the feeling we have to deliver then we do but now we have to deliver it consistently against the so-called smaller teams."
Whether he wants to go the Euros: "Yes, of course, why not?"
Speaking to Sky, here is what Julian Nagelsmann had to say:
"We were way too passive defending for the first goal, as during the week. We were also late dealing with a quick throw-in, which is something we talked about during the week."
"Dortmund did a lot with not many chances and we didn't do much with many chances. I don't think we were worse than the opposition."
After RB Leipzig collect their runners-up medals, it's Dortmund's turn on the stage. Piszczek goes up first, and then they all wait for Marco Reus to arrive last. He lifts the cup high into the air and that is the moment. Borussia dortmund are cup champions. Some RB Leipzig players watch on from the field below, perhaps unaware of the rain.
Nagelsmann looks stern and frustrated, which is understandable. His players are stunned and stand on the field in disbelief. The engraving is already underway. Dortmund's players are jumping up and down in the middle of the field. The contrasting emotions of a final.
Piszczek the hero!
The final whistle goes and the Dortmund bench springs on to the field. Lukasz Piszczek is in tears. The club legend in one of his last appearances for the club can't believe it. What a role he played too. The Pole is then throw in the air by his teammates.
FINAL: Borussia Dortmund have won the 2021 German Cup!
87' GOAL! 4-1 Dortmund (Haaland)
Dortmund get their goal and that is the cup win right there. Sancho drives forward, cuts it back to Haaland who slips and fires home via a deflection off his own foot. When you're in luck, you're in luck. Sancho comes off to a round of applause, Thomas Meunier comes on.
84' Oh, Jadon
Jadon Sancho has been superb but he just got greedy. Having been slipped through behind RB's defense, he rounded Gulacsi but instead of slotting into the empty net he tried to cut it back for Reus. Too cute though, and RB clear. He closes his eyes in frustration afterwards. What a chance.
80' Comeback incoming?
A different half has brought a different RB. Nagelsmann's side have had 10 shots to Dortmund's two and 67 percent of the ball. They have been in even greater control but that first half cost them big time, unless something extraordinary happens in the next 10 minutes...
71' GOAL! 1-3 RB Leipzig (Olmo)
Well, it has happened. Not long after they hit the post for the second time, RB Leipzig get the goal they deserve. Nkunku lays it back to Olmo who throws his leg at the ball. It flies through the crowd and in. Game on? P.S. RB's fifth sub saw Benjamin Henrichs come on for Haidara. Dortmund just brought on Thomas Delaney for Dahoud.
65' Time is running out
Nagelsmann looks animated on the sidelines. Here comes his last throw of the dice: Forsberg and Laimer on for Kampl and Mukiele. Not long after they arrive, Reus dashes through and cuts it back to Hazard but he sends it wide. Nearly four! What a performance this is from Reus.
55' Leipzig lurking
Julian Nagelsmann's subs have given Leipzig some pep. Nkunku in particular has been a spark but Dortmund have stood firm. "We have to be brave" comes the shout from Mats Hummels. Then Poulsen wins a corner after his shot flies wide of the far post. Akanji heads clear. Big 10 minutes incoming.
46' RB Leipzig hit the crossbar!
Christopher Nkunku, off the bench, gets in behind Dortmund's defense and clips a first-time effort onto the bar. Wow! What a start to the second half. Nkunku came on with Poulsen for Hwang and Sorloth by the way. For Dortmund, Thorgan Hazard replaced the booked Bellingham.
46' Back underway!
45' GOAL! 3-0 Dortmund (Sancho)
What a finish to the half (and perhaps the game) Haaland and Upamecano crash together inside Dortmund's half but not before Reus is slipped through. Reus, who has been fantastic in this half, cuts it back to Sancho who drops inside to dummy the keeper one more time before tucking home. What a half from Dortmund!
43' Dortmund in control
Dortmund nearly add a third. Sancho drives towards the box, slips in Haaland as soon as RB's defenders commit. Might be offside, but Gulacsi gets there just in time. Dortmund just look like they have a plan.
35' Clinical Dortmund
RB might have enjoyed more of the ball for most of the first half (nearly 60 percent), but Dortmund have been ruthless in attack. They have had two shots on goal and both have gone in. They've also defended solidly. Light rain in Berlin now, but surely that can't spoil the party for Dortmund? They see off another RB set-piece. I expect changes from RB at the break.
28' GOAL 2-0 Dortmund (Haaland)
Just like that, and Dortmund have two! A lovely through ball puts Haaland in, charging towards the box with just Dayot Upamecano to beat. He bullies the Frenchman off the ball, waits for the angle to open up and curls it into the far corner. Your move, Julian.
25' Tackle, tackle, card
Julian Nagelsmann's side can't make the most of a couple of set-pieces but they are more in the game now. Tackles are getting a little bit more intense. Can still super charged and then Bellingham gets booked. Feels like this one won't end with all 22 players on the field.
15' RB Leipzig try to respond
Unsurprisingly RB Leipzig are trying to find an equalizer, and quickly. Very high pressing pins Sancho in by his own corner but the Englishman wins a goal kick. Dortmund are defending well so far. Emre Can has been tough in a few tackles early. So far, so good from Dortmund.
GOAL! 1-0 Dortmund (Sancho)
Jadon Sancho picks up where he left off. An incredible goal sets this final alight as the Englishman cuts in from the left after and curls beautifully into the far corner. A man in form and Dortmund lead! Here's a thought, is Jadon Sancho underrated outside of Germany?
DW at the game
Our man on the ground in Berlin tonight is Tom Gennoy.
"The Olympiastadion is the perfect venue for a spectacle like the cup final. But 75,000 empty seats are a jarring sight and will never be the backdrop that a match like this deserves.
Background actors - media, medics, stadium staff - seem to outnumber the actual athletes by a factor of about ten to one. Still, the players are used to playing behind closed doors by now, and will be focused more on the match rather than the eerie backdrop."
German Cup final: Team news
Good evening! Time to get going then. After Dortmund won the first meeting 3-2 on Saturday thanks to Jadon Sancho's match-winning heroics, this time domestic silverware is at stake.
The big news for Dortmund is that Erling Haaland starts. We will soon find out just how fit he is. Otherwise Dortmund are expected.
For RB, Alexander Sorloth and Hee-Chan Hwang start as both Poulsen and Forsberg have to make do with the bench.
This is the 78th German Cup final and the 37th consecutive one to be held in Berlin's Olympiastadion. RB Leipzig could become the 26th different winner of Germany's cup competition having failed to win in their only previous attempt when they suffered a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich in 2019. But they will probably be without winger Angelino, who has not made the trip to Berlin following reports of a dispute between the Spaniard and coaching staff. More on that as we get it...
From the player's mouth: Yussuf Poulsen
"I have good and bad memories [of the German Cup final]. The result last time was unfortunately not what we had hoped for, but it was still a brutally awesome experience because of the atmosphere in Berlin. This year, of course, the whole thing will take place in a different setting without spectators, but the game will still be very emotional. That's why we're really looking forward to Thursday."
From the player's mouth: Mahmoud Dahoud
"I've been here for so long now, it's time to finally bring the cup home again. Winning a title can trigger something in you as a player. You're bound to get hungrier and want more. I think a title would be good for BVB as a whole."
Borussia Dortmund have reached a German Cup final for the 10th time, having previously won the title on four occasions, most recently four years ago against Eintracht Frankfurt (2-1). Victory over Leipzig would see them win their fifth German cup and draw them level with arch-rivals FC Schalke 04 and Eintracht Frankfurt in third place for most German Cup trophies.
From the coaches' mouth: Julian Nagelsmann
"Obviously the game is a real highlight and it will be an emotional farewell for me. Saying that, we still have two games left in the Bundesliga, which we have high hopes for. I would be really happy if I could say goodbye to Leipzig with the Pokal and two more Bundesliga wins. I've got a good feeling ahead of the game and I can sense the players have the right mix of nerves and excitement before a final. We're really proud that we've made the final."
From the coaches' mouth: Edin Terzic
"Erling Haaland's qualities are known throughout Europe. But without him, we have scored eight goals in the last two games. He was back on the pitch for the first time in two weeks — it looked quite good. We have one more training session and we want to wait for the reaction. After that, we'll sit down and see if it's enough for a call-up."