[A Champions League semi-final preview of Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid. For Bayern vs Barcelona, click here]
When Santiago Bernabeu became President of Real Madrid, this was exactly what he envisioned. As Madrid went on to win the first five European Cups from 1956 to 1960, it was done with a galaxy of stars who invoked fear as they went about conquering Europe.
As such, it defined what a club from Madrid would eventually come to be associated with. So, nothing at the moment is bigger at Real Madrid than the fact that finally, the 10 year wait for a European Cup seems likely to be over.
It is so big it papers over the cracks of the civil war that has existed between Jose Mourinho and club lieutenants Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos. So big that a dismal Liga campaign is being slightly forgiven. If los merengues wins the UEFA Champions League, there will be a party like no other at the fountain of Cibeles.
For that to be achieved, Borussia Dortmund must be negotiated. This represents a task that on paper looks daunting. Dortmund is without doubt a team that is steadily rising into Europe’s elite and the youthful exuberance adds to that outlandish exuberant football that they play.
However, their major advantage will be the source of their major disadvantage. Dortmund will be buouyed by the fact that they have already faced the Spanish giants in this same competition and gotten a good result. Twice.
That will form the basis of Mourinho’s obsession. That he was puzzled and perplexed by just how good the Rhine based team was during the group stage will have so affected his ‘special’ ego that he will not want it repeated again. As such, over and above the videos that he already has of them, he will endeavour to find the slightest of weaknesses and solve the most trivial of problems as he quests to overcome the team from Germany.
“If Borussia Dortmund get through the group, they’re candidates to win the tournament.”
Jose Mourinho after playing Dortmund in the Group Stages
It is exactly what he did three years ago when he met Barcelona in the semis. Already having been eviscerated by the Catalans in the Groups stages, he spent sleepless nights finding the absolute tactical plan that would see his team through. He succeeded as his Inter Milan side then went on to lift the trophy –ironically at the Bernabeu. If he were to do the same and lift the trophy at Wembley, then the Bernabeu will in all likelihood light up in praise for the Portuguese tactician one final time.
Invariably, it puts Dortmund at a disadvantage.
The fact as well that Madrid knows that La Liga is beyond them means that all energies will be fully concentrated on the Champions League. Unlike Chelsea who last season crashed this (same semi-finals) party to surprisingly win Europe’s coveted trophy, Dortmund will not be facing a team tired from the emotional and physical challenge of attempting to win its national League.
Like Chelsea, it will be Real Madrid who this time will be echoing cries of a last chance at redemption. At turning a troublesome season into a successful one.
And that does not do well for Dortmund who, despite having won the tournament before in 1997, is in this position after the end of a different generation and a different era brought about the lows of near bankruptcy. Lessons form that meant that investment in youth became paramount and thus the monster that is Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Ilkay Gundogan et al.
Then again, trophies can be won with kids.
But that looks highly unlikely here. The experience required to win the Champions League since that day in 1995 when Patrick Kluivert scored to win it for a very young Ajax side means that it looks virtually impossible to see them find their way to Wembley.
Even though they would be the most popular of winners among the majority of the neutrals, time may have finally come for them to wake up from their dream run.
Because, this will not be the same Madrid that they faced in the Group stages in as far as the psychological is concerned. This will be a new beast. Unleashed from its cage and having all its animalistic fury and power concentrated on one target. Xabi Alonso will distribute, Mesut Oezil will split defences, and Cristiano Ronaldo will run, shoot, score.
And with the manager who has the greatest knock out record in history on their side, this will most definitely be an uphill task.
Up the hill however is where Real Madrid hopes to be. They may not be the Real Madrid of the late 1950’s. Of 1963, 1998, 2000 or 2002. However, the class of 2013 hopes to become the ones who win the decima.
And take home this Champions League trophy for good.
[ This is a preview of only one semi-final. Would you want to read a preview of the other? Then click here, maybe!]