Dortmund's push past PSG in Champions League a victory for rejects everywhere

PARIS — Score this one for the unwanted. The motley crew of strays and mutts, old yellers and foundlings from Dortmund scampered into the Parc des Princes and, just as they did in front of the Yellow Wall six days earlier, felled mighty Paris Saint-Germain, the team with the highest budget and, just as important, the most desired free agent-to-be in world football: Kylian Mbappé. Who, incidentally, barring a last-minute volte-face (unlikely but, heck, he’s done it before) will leave his hometown club without delivering a European Cup.

Is the “unwanted” tag harsh on Borussia Dortmund? Not at all.

Mats Hummels, whose header sealed the tie: unwanted by Bayern Munich, just like the big man, Niklas Süle. Or the trio of loanees who started the game: Ian Maatsen (unwanted by Chelsea because he’s supposedly too short to play left back), Jadon Sancho (unwanted by Manchester United because he gives Erik ten Hag and everyone else agita) and Marcel Sabitzer (unwanted by Bayern because the guy who signed him is no longer there … or maybe it’s the pencil-thin mustache/man-bun combination). Or, indeed, the first-leg goal-scorer, Niclas Füllkrug: unwanted by everyone until Germany realized, at age 29, that he was worth calling up to the World Cup.

Heck, even resident legend Marco Reus — who was there the last time Dortmund reached the Champions League final 11 years ago — can be classed in the unwanted ranks, since the club informed him recently that they would not be extending his contract.

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All of this is in stark contrast with PSG, and not just because of Mbappe. The Qatari plan to plant the flag at the peak of the European game may have shifted from acquiring established megastars (Lionel Messi and Neymar are gone) to gifted up-and-comers, but the cash is still being thrown around, whether it’s Goncalo Ramos or Ousmane Dembélé or Randal Kolo Muani. And to ensure Mbappe would say “au revoir” with a European Cup in his metaphorical pocket, they had brought in as manager Luis Enrique, the no-nonsense visionary who didn’t coddle superstars and massage egos, but preached team ethos and selflessness.

On Tuesday, there was little of the Luis Enrique effect to be seen as PSG lost 1-0 in the second leg, a 2-0 semifinal loss on aggregate. He crowed afterwards about PSG having hit the woodwork four times, perhaps forgetting that two of them came at the end, when his best-laid plans were shot and he was throwing the kitchen sink at Dortmund, having resorted to the age-old plan of simply chucking on more forwards and wingers while chasing the match.

PSG would end the game in siege mode, with Mbappe, Dembele, Lee Kang-in, Bradley Barcola and Marco Asensio all on the pitch at the same time. Which, in some ways, was fitting because Dortmund coach Edin Terzic — once a creative coaching wunderkind, now a guy teetering on the edge of the sack … at least before this game — countered with plenty of yin to Enrique’s yang, going into full-on lockdown mode by withdrawing Sancho and sending on the 6-foot-7 Sule to clog space and snag headers.

By that point, Mbappe, who had little joy out wide, was moved into the middle, where he had even less space in which to operate. He all but drowned in a sea of yellow, popping up three minutes from time to hit the crossbar but offering little else other than frustration. Indeed, little had been going right for Mbappe on the night, from his uncoordinated finish in the 6-yard box early in the game to his attempted back-heel-turned-air-shot later onto the chance at the very end when, clear on goal, he slipped on the Parc des Princes turf.

Mbappe left Monaco to come home to Paris in order to make history before going on to the next chapter of his career. He rewrote PSG record books and won titles, but an individual performance like this one is not what he had envisioned for his final Champions League outing with PSG.

Really, though, the story is Dortmund, who serve up a reminder that part of the magic of this low-scoring, often nonsensical sport is that the unwanteds mired in a nightmarish domestic season can, in fact, reach the biggest game in club football.

Part of it may be down to PSG’s profligacy, sure, but you also have to be there to take advantage of your opponents’ miscues. And Dortmund did that with the utmost of humility, whether it was Fullkrug tying up the PSG central defenders or Sabitzer being a pest in midfield or the 35-year-old Hummels using all his guile and experience to lose his marker, 20-year-old Lucas Beraldo, for the Dortmund goal.

At the final whistle, Dortmund raced to the sliver of stand in the corner of the ground, which their supporters had turned into a travel-size version of the Yellow Wall back home. They danced and celebrated with the supporters, a single banana-colored mass of passion.

And PSG? Mbappe stood, head down in apoplexy, while most of his teammates appeared frozen on the pitch, incredulous.

In some ways, Enrique was right: PSG did have more chances over two games. But in other ways, he’s wrong: It doesn’t mean they deserved to advance or even that they played better. It simply means they have better players. But better players who, unlike Dortmund, did not add up to more than the sum of their parts. That, basically, is how you end up with a whopping 3.22 expected goals, or xG, and a big goose egg on the scoreboard.

They’ll learn and grow. Their leaders — Achraf Hakimi, Dembele and Marquinhos — have plenty of football left in them. The kids will get better: Vitinha is 24, Ramos 23, Barcola 21, Beraldo 20 and Warren Zaïre-Emery 17. And, you assume, they’ll be back. Well, all apart from (most likely) Mbappe. Not with this PSG team anyway.

Sometimes football is like an old John Hughes film. The popular girl, the one everybody pines for, loses out. And the unwanted rejects have their day.

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