Wednesday, we got our final round of Champions League group stage matches. Perhaps the most high-profile of those fixtures came between two sides who had already qualified for the knockout rounds. Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid sat atop Group F respectively, and only two points separated them. All Dortmund needed to do to secure the top spot and the supposedly easier seeding for the round of 16 was draw at the Santiago Bernabéu. Easier said than done against the high-powered attack of Los Blancos.
Things didn’t look good for the visitors to start off the match as Real quickly found their footing and seemingly passed with ease around BvB’s midfield. In the 10th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo laid off a casual backheel pass into the path of Karim Benzema on the edge of the penalty area. The Frenchman made good contact, but his low shot was parried away by Roman Weidenfeller.
Seven minutes later, CR7 again played provider. This time, the talented winger turned striker slid in James Rodriguez for a tight angle chance. Unfortunately for the home fans, James couldn’t lift his shot over Weidenfeller and Madrid were again left empty-handed.
In the 28th minute, Madrid finally got their deserved lead. Marcel Schmelzer wandered too far up the pitch and left the right wing completely open for Dani Carvajal to exploit. The fullback placed an inch-perfect pass through Dortmund’s defense for Benzema to tap home. 1-0 Madrid.
Andre Schürrle nearly found the back of the net from a free kick in the 39th minute, but Keylor Navas got down quickly to turn it away. Benzema’s goal would prove to be the only one of the opening period of play, and it would’ve been hard to argue that Madrid deserved anything less than the lead.
In the second half, BvB came out of the gates with a renewed life. Just three minutes in, Ousmane Dembele came within inches of leveling the scores only for his shot to roll just wide. Five minutes later, Benzema had the chance to quickly squelch any momentum Dortmund had, but Weidenfeller somehow denied the striker from tapping home from six yards out.
Not to be dismayed, Benzema scored moments later in the 53rd minute. This time, the former French international easily headed home a cross from James, and now it started to look as if Los Blancos were on their way to the top of the group.
While it would’ve been easy for Dortmund to pack it in and just accept their fate as second best, Thomas Tüchel’s side rallied quickly. In the 60th minute, Julian Weigl played a lofted ball into Madrid’s penalty area. Schmelzer was waiting for it and laid a perfectly weighted ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who tapped home to cut Dortmund’s deficit to just a single goal.
For the remaining 30 minutes, the sides exchanged chances with Aubameyang and Ronaldo both coming close. In the 69th minute, Benzema was denied a hat-trick by a goal-line clearance from Marco Reus. 10 minutes later Ronaldo’s close-range effort beat Weidenfeller but couldn’t beat the post.
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As Madrid began to ramp up the pressure, chances of a Dortmund comeback began to dwindle. Then in the 88th minute they finally broke Real’s backline. A Paul Scholes-esque pass from Emre Mor found a streaking Aubameyang down the right flank. The Gabonese striker slid a pass across the penalty area to Reus, and the 27-year-old hammered home to seal a 2-2 draw in the Spanish capital.
The result means that BvB finish atop of the group, while Madrid have to settle for second place. Neither side is guaranteed an “easy” path to the quarterfinals, however. For Dortmund, potential fixtures against Manchester City, Bayern Munich or Bayer Leverkusen could haunt them in the next round. For Real, we could see El Clásico play out again against Barcelona, or even a Madrid derby play out against Atlético.