Atletico and Dortmund see rare Champions League opportunity

In Sports
April 09, 2024



MADRID:

Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund do battle on Wednesday with both teams conscious the tie offers their best chance of reaching the Champions League semi-finals in years.

The duo are the underdog sides remaining in this season’s quarter-finals, with the other six teams either among the elite, spending as if they were or boasting trophy-laden European histories.

Atletico, who suffered a humiliating group stage exit last season, are fighting desperately to finish in the top four in La Liga, under pressure from Athletic Bilbao for the final Champions League qualifying spot.

Dortmund are languishing in fifth in the Bundesliga, although they did manage to escape a tricky group featuring Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Newcastle United.

Spanish champions in 2014 and 2021, Atletico will consider themselves the stronger of the two sides, even though Diego Simeone’s team oft prefer to be the unfancied outsiders.

“We drew a very tough opponent, the Germans are always strong and there will be a great atmosphere in the return leg, so we need a good first leg,” said Simeone in March.

“We find a team that fought to win its league last year and that this year is experiencing a season similar to ours — it will be tough.”

The coach, 53, is one victory away from his 50th win in the Champions League, with only eight coaches reaching that figure prior.

Simeone led Atletico to the semi-finals in 2017 and suffered agonising final defeats against arch-rivals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016.

Simeone has won virtually every trophy possible with the Rojiblancos but Champions League failure remains the thorn in their side.

Atletico defeated last season’s runner-ups Inter Milan in the last 16 on penalties, showing they have the ability to go all the way.

Defender Axel Witsel, who played at Dortmund for four years before joining Atletico in 2022, has been one of his team’s most consistent performers this season.

Unlike Atletico, Dortmund have won the Champions League, albeit back in 1997 when they beat Juventus in the final.

They were beaten by their own bitter rivals Bayern Munich in the 2013 final at Wembley, which was also the last time they managed to reach the semi-finals.

While their domestic performances have left much to be desired, Dortmund did beat Bayern in March and have played well in Europe, with coach Edin Terzic taking it as a cause for hope.

“It makes us a little frustrated when you see what we did against Bayern and in the Champions League and (I) wonder what might have happened had we shown this face more often,” he said.

“Now we have a few more chances to show this face again.”

Dortmund have only suffered two defeats in 2024 across all competitions, albeit the second coming on Saturday against Stuttgart, and are the only German team to have won at Atletico’s stadium in the Champions League.

With current holders City, record 14-time winners Real Madrid, German giants Bayern Munich and the strongest Arsenal side in years in the other half of the draw, Atletico or Dortmund could even go one step further.

The winner faces Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-finals, two sides far from their best level and with weaknesses to exploit.

Yet more reason to believe for two hopefuls looking to break through Europe’s glass ceiling in the 21st century.

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