x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Europa League: Dortmund's stepping stone to big show

The Signal-Duna Arena will be buzzing and Europe's bridesmaid competition has been springboard for many clubs' future success.

Lucas Barrios, left, Borussia Dortmund’s Paraguayan striker, has netted four times already this season in the Bundesliga.
Lucas Barrios, left, Borussia Dortmund’s Paraguayan striker, has netted four times already this season in the Bundesliga.

In its second season under a new name, the Europa League has still to shake off the stigma it suffered when it was known as the Uefa Cup.

It will probably never escape the sensation that it is the weaker sibling of the Champions League. But what it can do is make a sleeping giant feel like it has woken up.

Ten seasons ago, Liverpool won an epic Uefa Cup final, an event that proved a harbinger of two appearances within the next six years in the final of the Champions League. Five months ago, it was the turn of Atletico Madrid to declare themselves reborn as a major force by lifting the inaugural Europe League title in Hamburg.

In between, Porto were able to step immediately from the status of Uefa Cup holders to conquerors of the senior continental club title.

These are the sorts of inspirations sought by the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain, who meet tonight in Germany.

Its is a fixture to roll back the years, 13 to be specific. In 1997, Borussia Dortmund became only the second German club to win the European Cup, defeating Juventus in a dramatic final. In the same season, PSG came close to winning the European Cup Winners Cup: they lost narrowly to Barcelona in the final.

Dortmund have weathered some extreme ups and downs in the period since. Some unwise financial speculating, and the type of overspending that characterised football in the late 1990s and early 2000s, sent them close to insolvency. The guarantees that saved them were always represented by a capacity to regularly fill the most capacious stadium in the Bundesliga.

On its big nights, the Signal-Duna Arena rocks, a huge buzzing wasp of yellow and black. This ought to be one such night. This is the first home match for nearly nine years that Dortmunders can celebrate their team holding pole position in the Bundesliga.

Dortmund are a young side - the XI who beat Cologne last weekend averaged 23 years old.

Positions in Europa League Group J are not irrelevant at this point. Dortmund sit third, having won one and lost one of their first two matches, while PSG are on top with maximum points so far.

The Parisians too are in strong domestic form, with an excellent defensive record chiefly responsible for easing them to third in Ligue 1.



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