Dortmund tries to avoid reality before sipping another cup of sadness

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The medal ceremony is perhaps the most painful part. Borussia Dortmund doesn’t want to receive them, and judging by his impatient attitude, UEFA’s Aleksander Ceferin has little interest in handing them out. And so the medals are not so much draped around Dortmund’s neck as slipped onto them, with a certain compelling brevity, and without the faintest pretense that Ceferin knows or cares who most of the recipients are.

Jadon Sancho, to be fair, gets a faint flicker of recognition, a microscopic stretch of the lips that can only be detected by VAR. Karim Adeyemi, the man who missed those two big chances in the first half, gets a ‘well, what can you do’ shrug. None of the rest, even the outgoing Marco Reus, even get eye contact from the UEFA president. Julian Ryerson rips off his medal at the first opportunity. Edin Terzic, the coach, is moist in his eyes. Meanwhile, there are Dortmund fans in the stands with crumpled faces, broken and vengeful. Angry at the one who dared them to hope.

Related: Real Madrid wins the Champions League final, while Dortmund missed opportunities

It was instructive to see whose heads went down when Vinícius Júnior scored the inevitable second goal and put the result beyond doubt. Sancho fell to the ground. Giant stared blankly ahead. Mats Hummels looked wistfully at the celebrating Madrid players. Only Niclas Füllkrug stood in the center circle, clapped his hands vigorously and urged his teammates to make one last effort: “Yes, you are still new here, aren’t you.” The Dortmund Cup is a cup of sorrow, and sooner or later everyone has to take a sip.

We’ll likely hear a lot about Madrid’s “winning DNA” in the coming days. The confidence, the know-how, the swagger, the special sauce. As if this is simply an enchanted story of sporting alchemy, an innate winning essence, rather than the ability to leverage and continue to leverage a position of historical and financial dominance. Funny how – as Gary Player almost joked – the longer you stay at the top of the Deloitte Money League, the more ‘winning DNA’ you acquire.

And so these finals for teams of Dortmund’s size – quite rich in format, but still with half the revenues and 7% of the Champions League wins in Madrid – tend to be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy one in which the better team with the better players and the better coach somehow manages to get through it. That was the case on Saturday night, as Dortmund put up numbers, laid out their game plan, ran with strength and intelligence and did their utmost to avoid reality.

In this reality – a reality that Jürgen Klopp so succinctly presented more than a decade ago – you really can beat the house. You can turn the tables on the bigger clubs by using better tactics, by scouting smarter, by running faster, by shouting louder. With 25,000 in the stadium and thousands more on big screens at home, Dortmund presented a strangely flat Madrid, like a team that had already been condemned on some level.

So Emre Can started Jude Bellingham, Ryerson and Sancho closed off Vinícius, and when Dortmund got the ball they moved it with speed and bias. After twenty minutes, Adeyemi met a brilliant through ball from Hummels, took it around the goalkeeper, but unfortunately also past the six-yard box, the photographers, the stewards in the corner and most of Green Car Park 6. Seven minutes later, in a similar situation another heavy touch allowed Thibaut Courtois to make an easy save.

Related: Borussia Dortmund 0-2 Real Madrid: Champions League final player ratings

And really, if you boil it down, that was it in terms of real openings. Füllkrug had a few offside chances, Dortmund continued to counter and cross with impunity, so many players played great games – Hummels, Gregor Kobel, Marcel Sabitzer, Julian Brandt. But football is a game of results, wrapped in a game of trials, and if Dortmund spent 74 minutes winning the trials, the difference was ultimately a serious defensive error and a header from one of the smallest players in Madrid’s side .

We can, of course, point fingers and assign blame, as you always can in these cases. Adeyemi because he missed those chances, Füllkrug because he couldn’t follow Dani Carvajal’s run, Kobel because he pushed too hard towards his near post, Ian Maatsen because he gave the ball away in the run-up to the second goal. But to do so is to largely miss the point that the essence of sporting greatness is the ability to do what’s needed, when it’s needed. Had Dortmund not made these mistakes, they undoubtedly would not have been one-time champions Borussia Dortmund; they would be fifteen-time champions Real Madrid.

And as Klopp looked on somberly from his private box, it was hard to escape the idea that the world he and Dortmund built together is already part of the memory. Nowadays the bigger clubs also have smarter scouting networks, better organized press and more impressive medical departments.

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Terzic, for all his skills and competencies, is not a Klopp-level genius. Can is not Ilkay Gündogan, Füllkrug is not Robert Lewandowski, Reus 2024 is not Reus 2013. And the likeable underdogs Dortmund, everyone’s second favorite team, are now strategically working with the international arms manufacturer that is helping Israel to destroy Gaza.

The much-criticized deal is said to be worth around £6 million per year, and is part of Dortmund’s attempt to move themselves a little closer to the elite, to close the gap, however infinite, with the Madrids of this close the world.

After all, if you can’t change reality, you might as well get on with it.

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