“It’s embarrassing, it’s so disappointing, I don’t know what to say. Dortmund’s made a giant step forward. We can say they’re almost champions.”
Those were the quotes from Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben, who could hardly hide his disappointment after walking off the pitch at the Westfalenstadion on 11 April, 2012.
Like many of his teammates, the Dutchman understood the consequences of this particular defeat. They had needed the three points to draw level with the home side as the Bundesliga title race neared a conclusion.
Sure, a 1-0 away defeat isn’t one a team would normally get too upset about. But given their deficit to Borussia Dortmund in the table, any defeat in the Bundesliga was considered a costly one for Die Roten – especially losing to them directly.
The stakes were incredibly high that night. Dortmund, who were looking to successfully defend their title, had come from behind to lead the top-flight by just three points. But Bayern were still within reach of Die Schwarzgelben, and this set the stage for a highly anticipated encounter that both sides needed to win.
It was a blow for the home side that they could not count on the services of star creator Mario Götze, who had scored the only goal in the reverse fixture back in November. Yet both teams still lined up with strong teams, in a packed Westfalenstadion filled with just over 80,000 fans.
This was the game everyone wanted to see – the fixture that decided who ruled German football that year.
While Mario Gomez had the first chance of the game with a saved header, it was the home side who outplayed their opponents in the first-half, and the chances starting coming thick and fast for them. First, it was Jakub Błaszczykowski who fired wide in a one-on-one situation with Manuel Neuer.
Minutes later, the Bayern stopper was forced into a briliant save to deny Kevin Großkreutz from close-range. And on a rare occasion where he was beaten, the post saved Die Roten, keeping out Robert Lewandowski’s header from nestling into the back of the net.
The best Bayern could muster was a long-range effort from Toni Kroos that went wide of Roman Weidenfeller’s goal. Their midfield was pressured and hassled constantly, and on the flanks, Franck Ribéry and Robben were both shackled, unable to impact the game the way they usually could. With Gomez unable to provide a relief outlet for his defence, Jupp Heynckes’ side were comprehensively beaten in every aspect except the scoreboard.
And he would see his wish fulfilled, as Bayern began to win back control of the game in the second-half. Heynckes’ decision to bring on Bastian Schweinsteiger for the ineffective Thomas Müller had the desired effect, with Die Roten able to keep hold of the ball for longer and frustrate Dortmund, who were beginning to run out of steam.
But just as a draw looked to be the most likeliest result, Die Schwarzgelben got their reward for having outrun their opponents all game long. A cross from Marcel Schmelzer was half-cleared away and fell to Großkreutz, whose scuffed effort looked to fall short of reaching the goal.
Spotting this, Lewandowski reacted brilliantly and flicked the ball past Neuer. It was a well-deserved goal for Jürgen Klopp’s side, and sent their fans into a state of frenzy. Meanwhile, Bayern had only themselves to blame as Robben was too slow in catching the Polish striker offside, while three of their players had turned their backs on Großkreutz’ initial effort – and failed to deal with it properly.
The drama wouldn’t end there. Weidenfeller, rushing out to get the ball, would bring down Robben in the box with only a few minutes remaining. Up stepped the Dutch winger, who had scored all eight of his previous Bundesliga penalties.
Maybe the occasion got to him. Because his effort was tame and easy for the hosts’ goalkeeper to save, atoning for his error. Dortmund centre-back Neven Subotić, channelling his inner Martin Keown, proceeded to yell expletives in the former Chelsea player’s face, knowing fully how big of a miss it was.
Amazingly, the Bayern star would get a second chance at equalising, this time from two yards out. Yet somehow, he found a way to miss, effectively ending his team’s chances of salvaging anything from the game. And while Lewandowski would hit the bar before the final whistle was blown, the game’s big moments had effectively decided the game – in favour of Dortmund.
As shown by the wild celebrations at the Westfalenstadion, this was a huge win for the home side. Having outplayed their opponents for much of the game, it was a victory fully deserved. And Klopp’s side would go on to win all of their remaining Bundesliga games, with their newly created six-point gap too much for Bayern to overcome.
Fast forward eight years, and at the time of writing, Bayern currently hold a four-point gap over Die Schwarzgelben. In just over a week, they’ll make the trip to Dortmund, who haven’t won a league title since that very season.
Will Lucien Favre’s side be able to emulate history and beat Die Roten to set up a title march of their own? Or will Bayern banish the memories of this painful defeat?
Whatever happens, it’s fair to say the winner of this encounter will be the ‘almost champions’ of the 2019/20 Bundesliga.