19th February, 2020
It was a night of glory not just for Borussia Dortmund but even more for their newly acquired striker, Haaland who virtually single-handedly took PSG to the cleaners in a European Champions’ League encounter played last night.
If anyone still needed convincing as to the talents of Erling Haaland, the efforts of Tuesday evening should serve to silence any lingering doubts.
Borussia Dortmund’s Norwegian prodigy – ably assisted by Jadon Sancho’s impossibly quick feet – put Paris Saint-Germain to the sword in a thrilling 2-1 victory in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie at Signal Iduna Park and, in the process, even put the visitors’ stellar duo of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in the shade.
Borussia Dortmund’s five Bundesliga clashes since returning from the winter break have yielded no less than 30 goals – a figure identical to that posted by PSG in their corresponding six Ligue 1 outings so far in 2020. Whatever the outcome on Tuesday, the smart money was on a busy evening for Roman Burkl and Keylor Navas in their respective nets.
It was the hosts, though, that came out of the blocks fastest. With the imperious Sancho popping up across the field to pose a constant threat to the PSG backline, it was all Thomas Tuchel’s men could do to sit back, brace themselves against the storm and hope Navas proved up to the task.
Ultimately the Costa Rica No. 1 – a three-time winner of the Champions League trophy so dearly coveted in Paris – was forced to make just one save in the opening 45 minutes, a fine stop from Sancho when the teenage livewire fired in from the edge of the area.
That Navas was not forced into action more often owed more to a certain indecision from BVB’s young forwards in the final third, making a series of wrong turns when the net opened up, than from any particular merit shown by PSG.
At the other end, Dortmund’s notoriously leaky defence was made to look solid by their rivals’ sporadic, ineffectual incursions.
Neymar was drawn time and again into a battle he could not win, squaring up against the entire BVB backline against impossible odds, while Mbappe cut a forlorn figure far from the all-action goal scorer who has taken the football world by storm.
The second half began in much the same vein and, after going close with a couple of delightful pre-rehearsed set-piece routines that were only missing a stray boot to turn the ball home, the question seemed to be not if the Germans would open the scoring, but when.
The answer would come 20 minutes from the end, from an inevitable source.
Lucien Favre’s decision to double down and throw a third teenage striker on the pitch in the shape of Giovanni Reyna – moreover in a spell where PSG had found themselves in front – paid instant dividends when Dortmund finally broke the visitors’ resolve. Haaland found himself in the right place to poke home the rebound from Raphael Guerreiro’s deflected effort.
Neymar and PSG were not quite finished. A sparkling run from Mbappe – much-improved from the first half – left the Brazilian with a simple finish under the posts to level the score.
But Tuchel’s charges barely had time to catch their breath before the irrepressible Haaland was celebrating again, thumping home past Navas.
Not only did the Norwegian prodigy give BVB a perhaps priceless advantage on the night, but he also drew level with Robert Lewandowski as the Champions League’s top scorer in 2019-20, with an incredible 10 goals in seven outings so far, thus becoming the fastest man ever to reach double figures in the competition.
In Dortmund colours, overall, he already boasts 11 in just four starts – not a bad tally for a kid who on Tuesday marked the month’s anniversary of his debut in Germany.
With a completely objective eye, one could argue that Haaland fell shy of his best against PSG: at times he isolated himself from his team-mates, and kept his head down when a slightly cooler mind would have looked for assistance.
But his ability in front of goal at just 19 is nothing short of astonishing and, almost single-handed, he is turning around a Dortmund season that looked in danger of petering out into mediocrity as recently as one month ago.
Dortmund may have hoped for a slightly wider margin given the events of Tuesday, but a 2-1 lead to take to Paris is nevertheless a fine result.
And one thing is for certain: with Haaland on the prowl, it is hard to see BVB failing to cancel out that away goal in what is primed to be a sensational second leg.