Borussia Dortmund and Monaco finally got to play the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday. Whether it was too soon to play soccer after three bombs exploded near the Dortmund team bus the day before – fortunately injuring only one player – that issue is up for debate.
But the show apparently had to go on, and the two sides loaded with some of the world’s best young attacking talent did manage to entertain at Signal Iduna Park.
Basking in the spotlight was French teen phenom Kylian Mbappe, who showed yet again why he’s being called the next Thierry Henry. The 18-year-old scored the opener and delivered the third and final away goal in Monaco’s 3-2 victory over a Dortmund side that not surprisingly came out flat after Tuesday’s shocking events.
Monaco’s susceptible defense conceded late, but the Ligue 1 leaders are in great position to advance to the semifinals. The second leg is next Wednesday at Monaco.
Dortmund avoided the early deficit in the 17th minute thanks to Fabinho’s missed penalty, which was won by Mbappe from a foul by Dortmund defender Sokratis (more on him later). But Monaco grabbed the lead just two minutes later and did so under some controversy.
Bernardo Silva’s long run on the break led to Thomas Lemar’s first-time cross, which found an unmarked Mbappe in the box. Mbappe, who held up his run trying to stay onside, made contact with the ball with his thigh to knock it into the open net for a 1-0 Monaco lead. However, replays clearly showed that Mbappe was indeed offside.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 12, 2017
Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa missed a sitter in the 31st minute off a square ball by Matthias Ginter. Four minutes later, the hosts managed to score but under the wrong circumstances. Sven Bender’s attempted clearance on a cross by Andrea Raggi went horribly wrong as goalkeeper Roman Burkl could only get a flailing hand on the cracking header for a 2-0 Monaco advantage and another precious away goal.
— WH Sport (@worldhighlight) April 12, 2017
At that point, Thomas Tuchel’s criticism that “someone in Switzerland decided we have to play” (in reference to the decision-makers at UEFA) a day after the bomb explosions was going to be a talking point. And the coach did have a point, considering some Dortmund players probably were still coming to terms with what happened Tuesday, most of all the wrist injury to defender Marc Bartra that required surgery.
Tuchel had no choice but to make the best of the situation. And he made his best decisions after halftime when he opted to beef up Dortmund’s attack by throwing on Nuri Sahin and, more importantly, American star Christian Pulisic.
The impact was immediate. Pulisic, the 18-year-old phenom from Pennsylvania, ran Monaco’s left side ragged from the wing, creating all kinds of problems with his elusive dribbling into the box. The substitutions paid dividends in the 57th minute when Dortmund, owning the bulk of possession, finally pulled a goal back.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s incredible backheel on a cross into the box fell right to Kagawa, who avoided oncoming keeper Danjiel Subasic long enough to square the ball to an unmarked Ousmane Dembele. The French teenager’s easy tap-in cut Monaco’s lead to 2-1.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 12, 2017
But Dortmund lost that momentum when Sokratis made another defensive blunder. This mistake would be costly, however, as the defender’s slip at midfield (a la Steven Gerrard against Chelsea – sorry Liverpool fans) allowed Mbappe to pounce onto the loose ball and take Burkl one-on-one. Mbappe calmly came through with a splendid finish for a third Monaco away goal and a 3-1 cushion in the 79th minute, further driving up his summer transfer asking price.
The strike was also historic because it made Mbappe the youngest-ever two-goal scorer in a Champions League knockout stage match.
— Ali (@TvvitterGod1) April 12, 2017
Dortmund was not done, though, and responded quickly. Kagawa’s strike five minutes later made it 3-2 Monaco to keep the Bundesliga club’s semifinal hopes alive.
— TwoYellows (@TwoYeIIows) April 12, 2017
In the first minute of stoppage time, Aubameyang appeared to be fouled in the box attempting a leaping header. But there was no penalty for Dortmund, which would have to be content being down only a goal at halftime of an enthralling quarterfinal tie.
In his postgame press conference, Tuchel continued to take UEFA to task for forcing his team to play so soon. And he had every right to rant, since his players were the ones directly affected, physically as well as psychologically, from bombs that shattered windows as their bus left the team’s hotel on Tuesday.
“The situation is absurd,” Tuchel told reporters. “We only had 15 players available in the squad.
“We would have wanted to have more time to digest all of this. We did not get this time. We have to live with the fact that the match was scheduled. It’s about our dream, our big dream, and the squad did not have the feeling they could make the difference in the small situations.”
“Minutes after the attacks, the only question was whether the game could go through or not,” Tuchel added. “We were treated as if a beer can was thrown at the bus. It gives you a feeling of impotence.”
Nuri Sahin provided some insight on the Dortmund players’ mindset, admitting that he couldn’t even think about soccer until he entered the game as a second-half substitute and was standing on the pitch.
— Viasat Fotball (@ViasatFotball) April 12, 2017
“I know football is very important. We love football,” Sahin said. “We suffer with football. We love football. I know we earn lots of money and have a privileged life. But we are human beings and there’s so much more than football in this world. Last night, we felt it.”
“When we were on the bus last night,” he continued, “I can’t forget the faces. I will never forget those faces in my life, for sure.”
Joe Lago is the editor of FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @joelago.