x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Borussia Dortmund can recreate the magic of 1997 at Wembley

Dortmund could inflict more final hurt on Bayern Munich tonight, writes Ian Hawkey.

Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League in 1997.
Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League in 1997.

How good were Juventus in the mid-to-late-1990s? Daunting. Rather like Bayern Munich over the last four years, they had strung together a sequence of repeat appearances in the Uefa Champions League final.

The 1997 edition, in Munich, would be the second of three on the trot for the Italian club. They arrived there as title-holders.

"We looked at that Juventus as an All-Star team," remembers Michael Zorc, now general manager of Borussia Dortmund and a senior player with the last and only previous Dortmund side to appear in club football's most important final.

"They had big names like [Didier] Deschamps and [Zinedine] Zidane, and Christian Vieri up front. The weekend before, they had just won Serie A."

Dortmund, meanwhile, had just conceded the Bundesliga, their property since May 1995.

"In the lead-up to the final," remembers Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Dortmund head coach of the time, "the media was full of negative stories, going on about the fact we had lost matches against Duisburg and Bielefeld rather than about our wins against Auxerre and Manchester United."

Indeed, Dortmund's progress in Europe had been as impressive as their spring form domestically had seemed erratic.

They defeated Auxerre 4-1 in the quarter-finals and imposed two 1-0 defeats, home and away, on United, in the semis.

The United ties, in particular, gripped a 29-year-old central defender, watching on his television in Mainz, where he played in Germany's second division.

He was absorbed especially by the duel between United's most charismatic footballer and celebrated Germany and Dortmund centre-back, Jurgen Kohler. The studious watcher? His name was Jurgen Klopp.

"I followed that whole Dortmund season really closely," says Klopp, now head coach of Dortmund. "Kohler versus Eric Cantona was a fantastic contest.

"Come the final, we all saw Juventus as the best. And they had Zidane. Before the game, Dortmund were given very little chance."

Hitzfeld, though, had prepared an ambush. From a cross by his hard-working Scottish midfielder, Paul Lambert, Karl-Heinz Riedle put Dortmund in front. When Riedle added a second, Juventus trooped into half-time stunned.

Across the Ruhrgebiet, an industrial region of concentrated football passions and rivalries, belief grew in an unexpected German triumph.

"That cup win was big for everyone around where I grew up," says the current Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.

His memory may be blurry and little rose-tinted, given he was only six at the time, but he reckons even in Gelsenkirchen, his hometown and the nest of Schalke, Dortmund's fiercest local rivals, a Champions League victory softened neighbourhood enmities. He believes it still can tonight.

"I have had Schalke fans coming up to me and saying they hope we win at Wembley," smiles Gundogan.

In 1997, Dortmund triumphed 3-1. Alessandro del Piero, a Juventus substitute pulled a goal back and a Dortmund sub, Lars Ricken scored the Yellow and Black's third from long-range.

Ricken's was a fairy-tale contribution. Born in Dortmund, 20 years old at the time, he had been on the pitch for 16 seconds.

Ricken was very much the kid of that squad, Zorc points out. Riedle, Kohler, Andreas Moller and Stefan Reuter had won the World Cup with West Germany seven years earlier.

"To be honest, there are not a lot of parallels between then and now, because 1997 was the end of an era for that team," says Zorc.

"For this current, young side, the final should be the beginning of something." Klopp will not be shy of using, as a carrot, footage and anecdotes from Dortmund's other Champions League final.

"It is an inspiration and because of that, the Munich final will play a role in our preparations," he says. "Everything that gives us a positive feeling is helpful.

"Juventus were the best team at that time. Bayern Munich are one of the best teams, maybe the best team in the world at this moment. We are the challenger.

"If we win, we will not be best team in the world but we will have beaten the best."

And if that happens, Bayern, three times losing finalists in the 16 years since Dortmund's glory against Juve, will feel this prize really, eerily does have something against them.

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