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Classic Teams #1 | Borussia Dortmund (1995-97)

When it comes to tradition and history, Borussia Dortmund is one of many storied clubs the Bundesliga can boast to have within its retinue. The club has had a very eventful 110 years in the footballing world, reaching heights that perhaps would have been unfathomable to its founders when they came together in December of 1909, in defiance of the mistreatment of the local church-sponsored football team perpetrated by a local chaplain.

No one, at that time at least, could imagine the journey the club would go on, from standing in defiance to the Nazi’s while they ravaged Germany and Europe, to winning their first national titles in the late 1950’s, to becoming a European powerhouse known in virtually every country around the world. Borussia

Dortmund’s rich and colorful history has had an immense amount of periods and teams that deserve to have their stories told, but at least from a sporting perspective, the story of the 1996-1997 Champions League winning side is one that still lives deep in the hearts of Die Schwarzgelben fans, for it was the clubs first and only Champions League win to date.

This side has become symbolic of what the club has proven it is capable of achieving, and even for fans who began to follow the club well after this historic feat was completed, getting to know the story of this prolific side does an immense amount to further solidify ones connection to the club, for this win set quite a few effects in motion, effects that are still evident today in both the club structure and in how the club is viewed and respected around the world.

The Ottmar Hitzfeld Era and the 1990’s: The Golden Era for Borussia Dortmund

The story of Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League winning season cannot be told without first touching upon the events that led up to it, the first of these being the appointment of Ottmar Hitzfeld as manager. Leading up to the appointment of Hitzfeld in 1991, the club didn’t have the looks of a European juggernaut in the making.

Taking a look at the team’s position in the league between the 1987-88 and 1990-91 seasons, there was a menagerie of unconvincing Bundesliga finishes, with Die Schwarzgelben finishing as high as 4th and as low as 13th during this time. A DFB Cup win in the 1988-89 season would be the highlight of this period, but nothing compared to the heights and consistency Hitzfeld’s Dortmund side would make standard.

Throughout his tenure, Hitzfeld managed to lead the side to two German league titles in 1995 and 1996. In his arsenal, Hitzfeld’s team boasted names the likes of which are now considered cult heroes among the Dortmund faithful; Stefan Klos, Lars Ricken, Michael Zorc, Matthias Sammer, Andreas Möller and Karl-Heinz Riedle just to name a few. Many of these players would go on define both Dortmund, and German football for years to come.

The Group Stage

Dortmund came into the 1995/96 season riding on a high of winning the Bundesliga. Their captain at the time, Matthias Sammer, had been named European Footballer of the Year. To all those concerned, this was truly a golden era for the club. The best was yet to come, however.

Having managed to finish high up in the table for the last few seasons, Dortmund had become a regular in Europe, even pushing their way to the UEFA Cup final in 1993, only to be defeated by Juventus 6:1 over two legs.

In the group stages of the 1996/97 edition of the competition, Dortmund found themselves in a group with Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, Polish side Widzew Łódź, and Romanian capital club Steaua București. Against Atleti, Dortmund were able to seal a 1:0 victory at the Vincente Calderón thanks to a Stefan Reuter goal in the 51st minute. The return leg at the Westfalenstadion would end less favorably however with Die Schwarzgelben losing 2:1.

Dortmund also managed to take both games against Steaua București, with the return leg in Dortmund playing out as an emphatic 5:3 victory for the Black and Yellows. Things started well for Dortmund in the 13th minute when Swiss international Stéphane Chapuisat slotted home from a well-placed free kick that found its way to the back of the net via a gap in the defensive wall. București’s Bucurel Sabin Ilie would respond in kind just minutes later, leveling the score from the penalty spot. Dortmund would further respond through Chapuisat and René Tretschok to make the score 3:1 before halftime.

The 51st minute would find the Romanian capital side behind by just one goal after Marius Baciu read a cross perfectly to send his shot past Klos. Dortmund would put the game to bed just 11 minutes later, as both Riedle and Zorc found the back of the net in the span of two minutes. Dortmund’s now Sporting Director would put the game beyond the reach of the Romanian club after he found himself in front of goal after some well worked interplay in the București box. Steaua’s Aurel Augustin Calin would pull one back for Steaua in the 79th minute, but it was too little too late.   

Widzew Łódź, to their credit, turned out to be a more stalwart opponent than the Romanian capital side. The German giants managed to edge the Polish side 2:1 in the home leg, but the away leg saw them stumble and come away with only a draw. The game started in the typical Dortmund quick-fire fashion we still see today. Paul Lambert opened the scoring for Dortmund in the 14th minute after receiving the ball from Heiko Herrlich in the box. The match would be completely turned on its head just five minutes later, however, with Łódź Striker Jacek Dembiński netting a double within that time frame, the first just one minute after Lambert put the Black and Yellows ahead. The second, it has to be said, was quite the strike. With Klos out of goal Dembiński opted to whip it over the entirety of Dortmund’s defense and curl the ball into an empty net. The Polish side would lead Dortmund until the 65th minute when Jürgen Kohler connected with the ball from a corner taken by Chapuisat. Kohler’s goal made sure Dortmund advanced on to the knockout stage of the competition.

The Knockout Stage

Borussia Dortmund was faced with a familiar foe in the quarter finals of the knockout stage as they took on French side AJ Auxerre. The two teams clashed back in the semifinals of the UEFA Cup in the 1992/93 season. In the first iteration of this tussle, Auxerre came out victorious on penalties after each side managed 2:0 victories in their respective home games. This time, the tie was destined to end less favorably for the French side. Dortmund swept both ties, 4:1 on aggregate. The 3:1 win at home is especially remembered for the opening goal, which was part industrious interplay in the box, and part amazing luck. A pinpoint pass into the box from Heiko Herrlich found Riedle, who held it up for an onrushing Chapuisat. Chapuisat attempted a shot, but it was defended, resulting in a deflection. The deflection fell kindly for Chapuisat who attempted an overhead kick. That kick was met head on by Riedle, who headed it into the back of Auxerre’s goal.

In the semifinals, Dortmund came face to face with their toughest opponent of the campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. United was in the middle of their own renaissance under Sir Alex, and were wreaking havoc on the domestic front, having won 3 Premier League titles since the turn of the decade. They were a team filled with modern day legends as well, with the likes of Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Peter Schmeichel and the Neville brothers just to name a handful. It isn’t hard to envision why the English side were the favorites. In the first leg at home to Dortmund, United missed many opportunities to put themselves ahead. Cantona and co. came ever so close on a few occasions, but it would be a singular goal from Tretschok late in the second half that would decide the fixture. A shot from outside the box in the 76th minute surprised keeper Van Der Gouw and flew beyond his reach into the net. 

The return leg at Old Trafford saw the visitors play a better game, interestingly enough. Andreas Möller would open the scoring in the 6th minute, which set Die Schwarzgelben up for a long game of fending off the English giants. The away side defended valiantly, keeping a critical clean sheet. Manchester United had their moments with Beckham putting the ball into the back of the net from an offside position, as well as Cole firing from multiple favorable positions to no avail. The game would end 1:0, Möller’s strike enough to take the Black and Yellows to the final.

The 1997 Final – Dortmund 3:1 Juventus

Having managed to make it past United, only one test stood in Dortmund’s way of achieving European glory: Juventus. The Old Lady was a well-known adversary for the Black and Yellows. Die Schwarzgelben had lost to Juventus in the 1993 UEFA Cup Final, with 6:1 the final score on aggregate. This time, the Black and Yellows would exact revenge decisively.

Dortmund opened the scoring in Munich through the ever present Karl-Heinz Riedle in the 29th minute. A lofty ball into the box found Riedle who slotted past Angelo Peruzzi for the opener. Riedle would add another to Dortmund’s lead just minutes later, connecting with a well taken corner to head past Peruzzi for 2:0. Juventus would have a few opportunities that had them come close to drawing one back, an effort from Zinedine Zidane among others bouncing off the post or not getting past Klos and the Dortmund backline. They would finally draw one back in the 64th minute through Alessandro Del Piero, who struck the ball at close range inside the box. This brought back a certain edge to the game; Juventus were back in the tie.

The final nail in the coffin is a story of legend at this point, but a legend, in my eyes, that we’ll never get tired of. In the 71st minute, Lars Ricken came on to the pitch for Chapuisat, in the form of an impact substitution to help swing the game further in Dortmund’s favor. Ottmar Hitzfeld had no idea that just 16 seconds later, Ricken would run onto a through ball from Andreas Möller and score the winner for Die Schwarzgelben. The goal was a belter of a shot from outside the box that Peruzzi had no chance of stopping. Juventus’ keeper simply watched as it flew over him into the net. It was a goal worthy of such a legendary moment, a mark etched into Dortmund history that won’t ever be forgotten.

The Lasting Impact

The victory over Juventus in Munich that May would have long standing reverberations for the club and the course of its future. Being the first German club to win the UEFA Champions League has an appealing ring to it, and further added to the history and allure of the club. Several of the club’s players at that time would go on to play key roles in the club’s hierarchy, with Matthias Sammer going on to manage Dortmund from 2000 to 2004, winning the club’s 6th German title in the process. Michael Zorc, an integral part of the 1997 roster, currently presides as Sporting Director, and under his stewardship the club have seen two more Bundesliga titles and two DFB Pokals. It is with no doubt that having played their role in the Champions League winning side they tasted success and wanted to further it with their club in other capacities as well.

The impact of the victory however also gave the people of the Ruhr something to be proud of. The Ruhr Valley is notoriously known as a footballing hotbed, with Dortmund one of the clubs centrally embedded in its fabric and DNA. This Dortmund side further cemented their place, and the place of their fans, in the ethos of European football, and continued to show that German football was still a force to be reckoned with. Their win stands as a shining example of what the club is capable of and brings forth the promise of further domestic and European victories to come.

By Brian Szlenk.

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