Borussia Dortmund have achieved their minimum aim for the UEFA Champions League. The Black & Yellows finished a tough Group H in third spot behind Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid to book their place in the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League after the winter break.
BVB were beaten 3-2 (2-1) in the Spanish capital despite performing admirably in the final round of games. But as Apoel Nicosia were condemned to defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in the group's other match, there was no change to the final standings.
Boris Rupert reporting
It appeared as if Borussia might be heading for a heavy loss in the opening stages, with Real having raced into a two-goal lead inside 12 minutes thanks to Mayoral and Ronaldo. The visitors subsequently fought back, netting either side of the interval through Aubameyang to level the scores at 2-2, but Vazquez scored nine minutes from time to secure the spoils for Real.
Borussia went to Madrid needing to match Nicosia's result at Tottenham to wrap up third place in the group. Spurs had already topped the pool, with Real assured of second spot. The 3-1 loss in the first match was Borussia's first defeat at the hands of Real following a three-game unbeaten run against the Spaniards. BVB had previously drawn twice – both 2-2 – and lost four times at the Bernabeu. With one exception – a 3-0 defeat in the 2014 Round of 16 – they had always conceded twice.
BVB were without eight players, missing Toljan through suspension and Philipp, Castro, Götze, Piszczek, Reus, Rode and Durm through injury. Peter Bosz made four changes to the team that drew 1-1 in Leverkusen, with Castro, Philipp, Weigl and Yarmolenko being replaced by Bartra, Kagawa, Dahoud and Aubameyang. Real were without Bale (injured), Kroos (not in squad), Carvajal (suspended) and Marcelo, Modric and Benzema (all subs).
Borussia continued in the 3-4-3 formation they had deployed against Schalke and Leverkusen, with Pulisic this time starting down the right flank. Kagawa played in the attacking wide left role Götze had occupied in the derby, with free rein to go wherever he pleased. The Japan international often dropped deep into midfield to pick up the ball and slotted in on the left of a four-man midfield, which sat in front of the defensive rearguard that was expanded into a back five by Bartra and Guerreiro on the flanks when Madrid attacked. BVB were therefore in a 5-4-1 without the ball, while Real opted for a 4-3-3 with very offensive wide midfielders in Isco and Kovacic. Madrid pressed high, attacking BVB on the edge of their own box.
The match & analysis:
A sunny December day had developed into a cold evening by the time the Champions League anthem sounded at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu at 20:42 local time. But by 20:57 the Black & Yellows already found themselves two behind, with the opener coming on the seven-minute mark. A ball was played from a central position to Ronaldo on the left flank. The Portugal international cut inside unchallenged before playing the ball towards the penalty spot, where Isco – almost certainly inadvertently – flicked the ball on for Mayoral. The youngster found himself in acres of space in a centre-right position and dinked the ball over Bürki to put the hosts 1-0 ahead.
Real doubled their advantage with their second attack minutes later. The ball sailed across the box to Kovacic, who played the ball back towards the corner of the penalty area to Ronaldo, who took advantage of being unmarked again to fire an unstoppable and spectacular curler past Bürki to take his goal tally for the current campaign to nine (12.).
Chances for Kagawa and Aubameyang
The visitors, spurred on by the noisy and raucous travelling support, first posed a danger in the opposition penalty area on the 25-minute mark, although Varane blocked Pulisic's cross for a corner. Seconds later Kagawa went through on Navas after receiving the ball from Pulisic, but the combined efforts of the Costa Rican shot-stopper and Varane denied BVB a route back into the game (27). By now Borussia were having much more of the play, looking more effective and sharper. In the 35th minute Bartra played an excellent ball through to Aubameyang, whose shot from a centre-right position beat Navas but sailed wide of the upright.
Then comes the deserved equaliser
The visitors got what was by that point a highly deserved goal shortly before the break when Schmelzer intercepted a pass from Kovavic deep in the Madrid half. The defender delivered a perfect cross towards Aubameyang, whose diving header reduced the deficit to 2-1.
Things got even better when, barely three minutes into the second period, Sahin's spectacular pass was deftly flicked on to Aubameyang by Kagawa. The Gabon forward's first attempt from 11 metres was denied by Navas, but he cheekily chipped the rebound over the Costa Rican custodian to level the scores at 2-2. Ronaldo soon had a chance to re-establish the hosts' lead, only to miss from the edge of the box.
Pulisic appeared to have won a penalty following a collision with two Madrid players on the 62-minute mark, only to see his appeals waved away. As the minutes ticked away the reigning champions began to look more dangerous as the game became more open. Weigl replaced Sahin in a like-for-like change on the hour mark.
Vazquez seals 3-2 win in 81st minute
Between the 20th and the 70th minutes, BVB had the match relatively under control. On 74 minutes Subotic intervened to thwart Ronaldo, who protested vehemently five minutes later when his goal was disallowed for offside. Seconds later, though, Vasquez attempted a volley and, although he clearly miskicked the ball, it found its way through and put Real 3-2 ahead (81).
Kagawa had an outstanding chance to make it 3-3 with two minutes to go, but his shot from 16 metres sailed narrowly over following an excellent move.
The draw for the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League will be made a week on Monday. Next up for BVB is a Bundesliga clash with Werder Bremen, whom they host at a sold-out Signal Iduna Park on Saturday (15:30 CET).