Overwhelmed with tiredness, they hugged each other and could scarcely believe their luck. André Fuhr raised his fist into the air. The surprise of Matchday 3 was complete. Despite their heavily depleted squad, Borussia Dortmund's women's handball team had sprung a surprise in Europe's elite club competition by beating last year's French finalists Brest Bretagne 30-27 (15-9). They now top Group A with a points tally of 5-1.
However, Dana Bleckmann endured a stroke of very bad luck, coming off in the 26th minute with a suspected torn cruciate ligament. The injury crisis engulfing the women's handball team is now reaching alarming proportions.
BVB's outstanding performers against Brest were Alina Grijseels, who scored nine goals, and goalkeeper Yara ten Holte, who made a string of strong saves. "I can't remember having been so proud of my team. All the players showed the absolute will to fight. That was just terrific; this was a great moment for us, the win was deserved," declared the delighted coach André Fuhr. He was allowed to be. No other German team has ever won five points in the Champions League.
"There are two pieces of bad news taking the edge off this great success. Naturally the loss of Dana Bleckmann and, in addition, the small turnout. I just can't believe it. World-class handball is being played and there are so few fans. It's depressing for us and our players," bemoaned Andreas Heiermann, the head of the handball division.
For most of the fans at the Helmut-Körnig-Halle, of course, the result from the previous season was still fresh in their minds. The French outfit had produced a show of strength in the first leg in Dortmund, running out 41-29 winners. But BVB showed in the return fixture in Brest that more was possible, and battled their way to a 33-33 draw.
The scenario this year was completely different, however. Brest arrived with a squad full of world-class players, while André Fuhr had three A-youth players on the bench. What a stark contrast! "I watched Brest warming up. I think some of their stars underestimated BVB," André Fuhr said post-match.
And so it transpired. Brest were careless. Coach Pablo Morel said: "We got better in the second half, but it was already too late." BVB, on the other hand, performed aggressively and fought passionately. "This BVB team has character and deserves our absolute confidence," Fuhr said. Brest coach Pablo Morel was forced to call the first timeout with the score at 6-4 after 12 minutes. The French side were irritated, to say the least. When Amelie Berger increased the lead to 11-7 with her second goal in the 20th minute, it was nothing less than an enormous surprise.
Then came the moment of shock in the 26th minute with the score at 13-8, as Dana Bleckmann sustained her knee injury and had to be carried out of the hall. The half-time whistle then sounded with the score at 15-9.
What followed in the second 30 minutes was a real war of attrition between the Dortmund players, who were visibly tiring, and their French counterparts, who were now coming on strong, marking Alina Grijseels intensively and trying to deny her a sight at goal with every legal and illegal method at their disposal.
The advantage began to dwindle, with the score at 20-15 by the 40th minute. But BVB held their own. When Merel Freriks scored on 45 minutes to make it 22-18 and Yara ten Holte thwarted a Brest attack directly afterwards, there was hope that the lead could be seen over the line.
The last 10 minutes were unrivalled in terms of tension: Brest found the net time after time, while BVB were now battling intensively for every goal. With eight minutes left to play in the Helmut-Körnig-Halle, the score was 27-23 to BVB. And the two referees were making favourable decisions for the French favourites in numerous situations.
Five minutes before the final whistle, the fans in the hall began to sense an upset was on the cards. Could 28-24, a four-goal lead, possibly be enough? André Fuhr called one final tactical timeout. "That's when I became uncertain. Only a three-goal lead; I absolutely couldn't make changes and only had three A-youth players on the bench," explained Fuhr. But Alina Grijseels increased the lead to 29-25 with her ninth goal, and when Merel Freriks scored 55 seconds before the end to make it 30-26, André Fuhr was not the only one to raise his fists into the air. The surprise of Champions League Matchday 3 was sealed.
BVB: ten Holte, Kohorst – Grijseels (9), van der Heijden (6), Rønning (4), Bleckmann (1), Sando (1), Freriks (5), Berger (4), Moreno, Abdulla, Schwarz, Nordberg, Albers