Last-minute starter Adrian Ramos scored a first-half header to give Borussia Dortmund a 1-0 victory over Sporting on Wednesday and earn a spot in the knockout stage of the Champions League with two Group F matches to spare. The 30-year-old Colombian was slipped into the starting lineup an hour before the start after top striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was surprisingly dropped, and he headed in the winner in the 12th minute.
Dortmund, without a win in their last four league matches, are top of the group on 10 points and are certain of a top-two finish and a spot in the knockout stage.
Sporting’s second defeat to the Germans means the Portuguese team, on three points, must win their remaining games as second-placed Real Madrid are now on eight points after their 3-3 draw at Legia Warsaw.
“It was extremely difficult for us and at no time did we feel confident with our game,” Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said. “Defensively we struggled and in attack we made too many mistakes.
“Sporting were more courageous than us. We will frame this result and take away just the positives. No need to talk more about tactics,” a relieved Tuchel said.
Gabon international Aubameyang, who has scored three goals in three games in the competition, was a surprise omission from the squad for what Tuchel described as “internal reasons”.
Yet with Gonzalo Castro and Raphael Guerreiro back from injury, Dortmund enjoyed the better start.
Ramos made the most of his rare start, rising high to connect with a floating Matthias Ginter cross to give Dortmund the lead.
Sporting gradually found their feet and repeatedly split open the Dortmund defence with Gelson Martins failing to beat keeper Roman Buerki in a one-on-one in the 27th minute.
The hosts went close themselves minutes later with Christian Pulisic rattling the crossbar from close range.
The Portuguese brought on Dutch forward Bas Dost after the break and Dortmund were quickly on the back foot.
“We did everything well except score goals,” said Sporting coach Jorge Jesus. “Gelson Martins had a few chances to score in the first half and if you don’t take your chances you lose.”
The German side’s backline were forced into some desperate defending and Tuchel responded by bringing on defender Lukasz Piszczek.
Sporting’s Bryan Ruiz should have done better with a close-range diving header in the 78th that sailed over the bar but the Germans managed to hold on for a victory that ensures their Champions League campaign will continue into next year.