Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Champion of league champions

Tonight German champions Borussia Dortmund host English champions Manchester City in the final round of Champions League group matches. Regardless of the result, Dortmund are about to be crowned a more impressive kind of champion.

They have won the ultimate 'group of death' - a group that comprises league winners from England, Germany, Netherlands and Spain. Most significantly, they did so with a game to spare. It gives them the unofficial tag 'champion of league champions'.

The seeding system could hardly have produced a tougher group. Indeed, on paper, if any of the four teams should have feared the draw most, it was Dortmund. They were seeded in pool four, but they made a mockery of that, progressing to the knockout stages in first place.

Dortmund are unbeaten in Group D, with three wins and two draws, but it could easily have been five wins out of five. A 90th minute penalty rescued City in game two, and an excellent 89th minute free-kick from Mesut Özil spared Madrid consecutive losses to the Germans.

They have grown in confidence with each game. After a tentative yet solid start, with a 1-0 win over Ajax and a 1-1 draw away to City, Dortmund exploded onto the scene with two outstanding, high tempo performances against Madrid. Then they routed Ajax 4-1 in Amsterdam to emphatically seal the group win.

Dortmund has been restored to its glory days by brilliant young manager Jürgen Klopp, who has built a robust team that plays fast-paced, counter-attacking football, which is leaving the rest of Europe trailing in its wake.

In Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels they have two of the best young talents at centre-back. They are both just 23 years old, stand an intimidating 6'3” and 6'4” and chip in with their fair share of goals too.

A strong Polish contingent is a key part of the Dortmund revolution. Łukasz Piszczek and Jakub Błaszczykowski occupy the right-wing with the energy of many entire teams, and Robert Lewandowski is a one-man force in attack. 

Not many players perform the lone forward role as effectively as Lewandowski. He hit 22 league goals last season - none of which were penalties to cheaply boost numbers - and is the current co-top scorer in this campaign.

They have the current German player of the year in Marco Reus, who fearlessly opened the scoring in Amsterdam, Madrid and Manchester. He is a versatile attacking midfielder and works in combination with playmaker Mario Götze, who was described by former German Football Association technical director Matthias Sammer as “one of the best talents we've ever had.”

They are a devastatingly slick side, who are setting the Champions League alight. Results in this year's competition have shown that any team is beatable. Barcelona were humbled by minnows Celtic.

The tournament has been blown wide open. Dortmund, surely, must be considered as genuine contenders to the grand title of European champions.

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