Preview: Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid

Continental supremacy is at stake at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening, when underdogs Borussia Dortmund and seasoned Champions League pros Real Madrid square off in a 2023-24 final of titanic proportions.

For the Bundesliga powerhouses donning black and yellow, victory would end 27 years of hurt and seal Champions League title number two, while Los Blancos endeavour to etch their name onto the European Champion Clubs’ Cup for the 15th time.

Edin Terzic’s men were triumphant against Paris Saint-Germain in the final four to book their tickets to Wembley, while Carlo Ancelotti’s troops denied their upcoming foes an all-German final against Bayern Munich thanks to a gripping second-leg turnaround.

Match preview

Exorcising former Champions League demons under the Wembley arch is the goal for Saturday’s unfancied unit Borussia Dortmund, 11 years on from helplessly witnessing Arjen Robben’s scuffed shot trickle over the line for Bayern Munich in a 2012-13 Der Klassiker final in the English capital.

Departing club icon Marco Reus and rejuvenated centre-back Mats Hummels may be the only surviving members from that silver medal-winning troupe – the latter’s CV also includes an Allianz Arena stint sandwiched in between – but none of Terzic’s first-time finalists will require a sermon on the significance of June 1.

Coming up trumps in the tantalising Group of Death with AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle United was a sign of things to come for Borussia Dortmund, who sent PSV Eindhoven packing without breaking too much of a sweat before a minor blip in the first leg of their quarter-final versus Atletico Madrid.

Suffering their sole defeat of the 2023-24 tournament at the Wanda Metropolitano did not hinder Dortmund’s bid for European glory, though, as a phenomenal second-leg turnaround preceded a pair of exceptional 1-0 successes over perpetual bridesmaids PSG, shut out at both the Signal Iduna Park and Parc des Princes in early May.

Thanks to their own defensive discipline and the never-ending wastefulness of the Ligue 1 champions, BVB condemned PSG to another year of Champions League torture as the old-but-gold Hummels nodded in the solitary second-leg strike, thereby booking Dortmund a date with Champions League destiny for just the third time ever.

One-time European Cup champions back in the 1996-97 term, where Ottmar Hitzfeld masterminded a 3-1 triumph over Juventus in Munich, Dortmund have not been present in the showpiece event since falling to Bayern’s supremacy in London over a decade ago, and Real’s semi-final exploits means that a shot at Bavarian revenge did not materialise.

Even as Bayern lost their iron-clad grip on the Bundesliga title, Terzic’s men and the rest of the division were powerless to quell the Bayer Leverkusen juggernaut, and despite demolishing SV Darmstadt 98 4-0 in their closing contest, Dortmund could only labour to a fifth-placed finish.

However, thanks to Germany’s superior UEFA coefficient over all other nations barring Italy, BVB will dine at Europe’s top table next year regardless of the result of Saturday’s final, which they enter also seeking four straight Champions League victories at any stage for the first time in nearly 10 years.

Dortmund’s overall trophy drought has not been as agonisingly long as their 27-year wait for Champions League title number two – they prevailed in the 2020-21 DFB-Pokal – but a Champions League winners’ medal would shine much brighter around the neck of the Signal Iduna Park’s favourite son Reus before he clears out his Dortmund locker.

As has been customary throughout his record-breaking Champions League career, though, there will be no room for sentiment for Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, already in a class of his own with four European Cup triumphs as a head coach and now seeking to steer further clear of the chasing pack.

Of course, 14-time winners Real Madrid will be bidding farewell to a revered German servant of their own on Saturday, when midfield maestro Toni Kroos will play his final competitive club match before a Euro 2024 swansong, and the 34-year-old has already experienced one taste of Champions League final stardom over Dortmund from his Bayern heyday.

Kroos and his fellow fundamental Real performers did not drop a single point in the Champions League group stage versus Portuguese outfit Braga, deposed Italian champions Napoli and Bundesliga upstarts Union Berlin, although the manner of their 2-1 aggregate triumph over last-16 foes RB Leipzig left something to be desired.

However, in quintessential Blancos fashion, Ancelotti’s men astonishingly found a way to prevail against defending champions Man City – exacting revenge on their 2022-23 semi-final conquerors from 12 yards – before Newcastle United fans up and down the land rubbed their eyes and pinched themselves in bewilderment.

After shaking hands on a 2-2 first-leg stalemate, a rocket from Alphonso Davies – potentially a future Blancos player – appeared to have extinguished Real’s dreams of crown number 15, only for Espanyol loanee Joselu to write his name into Bernabeu folklore with a dazzling double to punch their ticket to Wembley.

Thanks to the astounding individual efforts of the erstwhile Magpie, Real Madrid’s iconic logo will appear on the front cover of the Champions League final programme for the 18th time on Saturday, and only three of Los Blancos’ previous 17 appearances in the trophy match have ended in heartbreak.

In fact, it has been a staggering 43 years since the Spanish behemoths came out second best in the showpiece, and since that crushing loss versus Liverpool in 1981, Real Madrid have triumphed in each of the last eight Champions League finals in which they have been present.

Extending that phenomenal sequence would seal a terrific treble of trophies for the reigning La Liga and Supercopa de Espana champions, who may have concluded the regular top-flight campaign by dropping four points against Villarreal and Real Betis, but little sleep should be lost over those two stalemates.

Unbeaten in 25 straight matches since January’s Copa del Rey beating at the hands of Atletico, Ancelotti’s men have also found the net in every single one of their fixtures away from their Bernabeu base in the 2023-24 season, another promising omen ahead of Saturday’s European extravaganza.

Team News

A conqueror of Dortmund in the 2012-13 Champions League alongside the departing Kroos, stricken Real Madrid defender David Alaba is still confined to the infirmary owing to his ACL injury, which has also dashed his Euro 2024 dreams.

The Austria international is one of two Blancos players set to watch on helplessly this weekend, as Aurelien Tchouameni has failed to recover from his foot problem in time, meaning that Nacho Fernandez should sport the captain’s armband for one final time before his expected exit too.

The remainder of Ancelotti’s outfield soldiers are in good nick – including former Dortmund starboy Jude Bellingham – but goalkeeper Andriy Lunin has come down with an extremely untimely bout of flu, forcing him to isolate from the remainder of the squad.

Out of fear of the bug being passed on, Lunin is reportedly set to travel to London separately – assuming his affliction clears up in time for the weekend – although his illness does make Ancelotti’s decision to start the fully-fit Thibaut Courtois that little bit easier.

Donning the famous white strip for the final time, Kroos is expected to line up alongside Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde in a Luka Modric-less midfield trident, but Joselu’s semi-final heroics should not be enough to break up the Brazilian partnership of Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior up front.

Likewise, the Dortmund doctors are also nursing a couple of stars back to full health, including Ramy Bensebaini (knee), Julien Duranville (muscle) and Mateu Morey (illness), although the latter was not included in BVB’s Champions League knockout squad anyway.

The only question mark in the Germans’ ranks is striker Sebastien Haller, who has returned to team training following an ankle problem, but the ex-West Ham United man is certain to play second fiddle to Niclas Fullkrug, scorer of Dortmund’s first of two strikes versus PSG across their semi-final showdowns.

Ten of the 11 starters from the second-leg success over Les Parisiens also began the final-day Bundesliga beating of Darmstadt, the one exception being Reus, who unsurprisingly got the nod over Julian Brandt in the latter fixture and – of course – capped off his closing Bundesliga appearance for BVB with a goal.

As tempted as Terzic may be to persist with Reus, certainly the fans’ favourite to finally add a Champions League honour to his resume, the Dortmund boss cannot bow to nostalgia and should re-introduce Brandt into an otherwise settled XI.

Potentially playing his final game for the club as speculation over his long-term future rages, Manchester United loanee Jadon Sancho – who memorably completed a sensational 12 dribbles versus PSG in the semi-final first leg – seeks to haunt Ferland Mendy’s nightmares on the right wing, and in Reus’s likely absence from the first XI, 2012-13 winner Emre Can sports the skipper’s armband.

Head to head

Frequent foes in Champions League campaigns gone by, Dortmund and Real Madrid have already crossed paths on 14 occasions in Europe’s premier competition, and Los Blancos unsurprisingly lead the head-to-head tally with six triumphs compared to BVB’s trio of wins.

The most recent of Real’s successes arrived in a pair of group meetings in the 2017-18 season, while Dortmund have not come up trumps since a 2-0 quarter-final second-leg success in 2013-14, and even that was inconsequential owing to Los Blancos’ 3-0 first-leg beating.

However, the stakes have never been higher between Saturday’s Wembley hopefuls, who have met in two semi-finals in 1997-98 (won by Real) and 2012-13 (won by Dortmund) but have never butted heads with the trophy ready and waiting for the victor.

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