Borussia Dortmund may have missed out on a Champions League semi-finals berth following an agonising 3-2 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid but the German club can regard themselves as winners on many levels.
Their fighting spirit and attacking prowess were again on full display as they embarrassed the Spaniards with a dazzling performance to win 2-0 at home on Tuesday but they were unable to balance out the deficit of their first leg loss in Madrid.
For coach Juergen Klopp, however, to see his makeshift team of youngsters and veterans dominate the nine-time European champion’s expensively assembled squad with such verve and passion was a pure joy.
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Hit by a string of injuries that sidelined half a dozen players, Klopp brought on veterans Oliver Kirch and Manuel Friedrich, who was a free agent without a side before being signed as an emergency replacement in January.
He also gave starts to 21-year-old Oliver Durm and 22-year-old Milos Jojic.
“I could not be more proud of this team and the way they played,” Klopp said.
“The players who came in – it was Jojic’s first game for Dortmund in the starting team – were extremely strong.”
“Oli Kirch has had the most impressive development for someone his age and Manuel Friedrich is so fit that you wonder if we should not talk to him (for another year).”
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After a slow start, last season’s runners-up put on a sensational attacking performance that left Real chasing shadows and praying for the final whistle to be blown as soon as possible.
For a team that has lost key players to major European rivals every year, Dortmund’s resilience is also remarkable.
“The game today was so good that we just cannot say anything else about it or accuse anyone. We have not made it easy for our fans this season but we offered them the best in this match,” Klopp said.
The 1997 Champions League winners, who have tightened their grip on second place in the Bundesliga, will no doubt give it another shot next season.
At the end of this campaign, leading striker Robert Lewandowski will be moving to Bayern Munich to join former Dortmund team mate Mario Goetze but few believe that the Poland forward cannot be replaced.
They managed to find able deputies when Shinji Kagawa left for Manchester United, when Nuri Sahin joined Real and when Goetze angered fans to sign with rivals Bayern.
“This was an evening that will not be forgotten quickly,” said defender Mats Hummels, another player on the wish-list of several top clubs.
“We won but were eliminated so it was only a great evening. But we showed everyone the internal strength we have as a team.”