Dortmund, Germany – T-shirts celebrating Borussia Dortmund’s 2022-23 Bundesliga victory have already been printed in the thousands, some already worn by fans before the start of Saturday’s game against Mainz. Title festivities have been meticulously planned for Sunday as the city prepares for the 500,000 people to arrive. With a two-point lead over Bayern Munich, and the need to win or match the score against Cologne on the final day, the script was perfectly written for Dortmund to end their 10-year Bundesliga title rivals’ domination. But she was missing the last page.
Dortmund could have sold the Westfalenstadion five times. All they had to do was beat Mainz, it wouldn’t matter what Bayern did. The fairy tale is 99% complete. But instead of signing to the final black and yellow pageant, they found themselves 2-0 down in the space of 24 minutes. And when hope returned through a 1-1 draw in Cologne, Jamal Musiala burned it with the winning goal in the 89th minute for Bayern.
– Stream a replay of Dortmund vs Mainz on ESPN+
– Stream a replay of Cologne vs Bayern Munich on ESPN+
It was a brutal, ruthless development. When Musiala’s stunning shot found the bottom corner of Cologne’s net, Dortmund’s title hopes collapsed. Buoyed briefly by the introduction of Gio Reina from the bench, their late brilliance to bring them back to a 2-2 draw meant nothing. And the 81,365 inside the Westfalenstadion returned to a black hole in German football’s inevitability where no matter what, and whatever the turmoil, the Bundesliga title belongs to Bayern Munich – for the 11th time in a row now.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. A two-point lead and impressive home support means it will surely be Dortmund’s time. They’ve been making plans all week. They have five times more media requests than available space; They had ticket requests close to 500,000; They planned the festivities, albeit without the guarantee of star attraction.
Dortmund fans entered the stadium early on Saturday in a festive atmosphere. The venue was rammed, and the concourses filled up six hours before kickoff. Songs have been sung, memories are glorified, football fiends are ready to rid themselves of evil spirits. When you’re perennial bridesmaids – the last time Dortmund won the title was in the days of Jurgen Klopp in 2011-12 – you’ll have to enjoy your moments in the sun when it’s due.
Dortmund has seen superstars come and go, snubbing bigger fish – oftentimes by Bayern Munich. But this was supposed to be a line in the sand, a moment when most of the other teams in the Bundesliga united behind the end of a collective waiting for a new name on the shield. But instead of celebrations, there will be heart-wrenching moments from this match. The golden confetti splashing the field before kick-off would see mournful music, transformed with two goals from Mainz in the first half, giving them a shock 2-0 lead after some woeful defending.
There would be the horrific serendipitous moments like Sebastien Haller missing a penalty in the first half, when he was 1-0 down, and when he failed to get the ball as it slipped through an open net in the 58th minute. There was a Marco Reus header from 6 yards soon after, though. which somehow floated over the bar. There were two goals, too little, too late in the 69th and 96th minutes. But also the countless raids on Mainz’s box where it’s hard to see how they didn’t finish with title-clinching goals (29 shots, 10 on goal in the end).
It was a match that defied logic – the stats paint some of this picture, and sports aren’t emotional, but that’s why we love theatre. The last ten minutes were breathless.
The swinging nature of the final day meant that despite Dortmund losing 2-1 in the 80th minute, when news of Cologne’s equalizer spread across the stands, the party was back on. A draw for Bayern meant that the result was insignificant in Dortmund – the cup returned to North Rhine-Westphalia.
For nine minutes it was believed again, the shirts unboxed; Dortmund has regained its vigor, and coach Edin Terzic is caught between feelings of wanting his players to continue while telling them what is going on in Cologne. It was sure to be their time again. Until it was not.
Rhind Tutt: Borussia Dortmund’s nightmares
Archie Rhinde-Tutt reacts to the collapse of Borussia Dortmund as they failed to win the Bundesliga title on the final day.
When Musiala scored that winner in the 89th minute, the cheers were switched to the sound of tables, the slamming of chairs, and once again the title was taken from their hands. While Dortmund continued to throw everything at Mainz, playing with a 2-0-8 formation (including Emre Can in every position), fans would crane their necks for information on what was going on in Cologne. They held the back of their heads, squeezing cigarettes hard and smashing plastic cups. Others sank into their seats, ready for one or two more goals to make it moot.
On the field, substitute Julien Duranville tried everything he could with his little box of tricks. Anthony Modest, Youssoufou Moukoko and Haller played offside, Reina urged to investigate, but no matter how hard they tried, the yellow wall couldn’t get the ball in. Challenge the red and blue German football gods and the party is ruined.
“It’s hard to find the right words,” Terzic said afterwards. “We feel empty because we knew the chance, you could feel the energy inside the stadium and in the city. We all wanted it so hard. We were so close – only one goal was missing, it was one goal in the other stadium we were missing, we knew we were 90 minutes away from lifting the trophy.” “This is the game we loved as kids. Sometimes it’s hard to miss a penalty, concede two early goals and suddenly feel the weight of it. But we tried our best and unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
In Dortmund, this will remain painful for months to come. However, there are many reasons for optimism. It was a season of inspiring personalities such as Haller’s debut in January after he underwent chemotherapy for testicular cancer. It’s been nine months since 19-year-old midfielder Judd Bellingham – who missed the game against Mainz through injury – has been sidelined in the league. This was the campaign in which boyhood fan, Terzic put up the yellow wall behind a team that combined exciting youngsters with old pros like Mats Hummels and Marco Reus.
This estimate would leak over time, but it was a desolate place after full time. For 10 minutes, the Dortmund players sat isolated on the grass like a swarm of lost bees. Then the Yellow Wall re-found their voice, responding in unison in a challenge symbol. Raphael Guerrero’s head didn’t rise from his chest, but while they were singing, he glanced up at the fans. Hummels stood, hands on his hips, looking on at the group hoping to celebrate, while Rios picked himself up to join his stunned teammates. Others walked in a slow sad circle, but as Holmes took a step forward towards the yellow wall, the rest followed as one, rising, apologizing and beginning the process of acceptance.
Life will go on, and the countdown to the next season will begin again. But the wait for another Bundesliga title continues for another agonizing year.