It was an unforgettable night 15 years in the making, and yet in some ways it didn't fully belong to Borussia Dortmund.
Playing in their first UEFA Champions League semifinal since 1998, Borussia Dortmund stunned Real Madrid with a 4-1 victory Wednesday night at Signal Iduna Park. Polish striker Robert Lewandowski bagged four brilliant goals and Dortmund enjoyed their most memorable and satisfying night in a years-long project of rebuilding following a period of financial mismanagement.
But after the events of Tuesday, this night belonged to both Dortmund and all of German football.
One night earlier, Dortmund's Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich routed FC Barcelona 4-0 in the other Champions League semifinal, setting up the opportunity for an all-German final next month in London. That opportunity now looks more like an inevitability after Dortmund's magnificent performance against Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid.
Before Wednesday night, no player had ever scored a hat-trick against Real Madrid in the Champions League. Lewandowski changed that.
Before Wednesday night, no player had ever scored four goals in a Champions League semifinal. Lewandowski changed that too.
And now the balance of European power seems to have shifted from Spain to Germany—and not even the world's two best players seem capable of stopping it.
After Barca and Lionel Messi were made to look average Tuesday in Munich, Ronaldo and Real appeared positively dejected in leaving the Dortmund pitch. No wonder, either: After Lewandowski's record-setting exploits, Spain's big two are all but finished.
And to think, Wednesday could have been a difficult day for Dortmund to concentrate.
Jurgen Klopp's team had faced a potential distraction in the build-up to kickoff when earlier this week news broke that 20-year-old attacking midfielder Mario Gotze had agreed to sign with Bayern Munich in the summer (per BBC Sport). In addition, there were rumors that Lewandowski could follow him. The hosts, however, never showed any ill effects.
On the contrary, Real looked sluggish early, possibly because of manager Jose Mourinho's unusual team selection. Playmaker Mesut Ozil moved from his customary central playmaking role to the right of midfield in place of Angel Di Maria, who has recently been away from the squad for the birth of his child (per Goal.com).
Luka Modric moved into the middle but played deeper than Ozil, while Ozil took a narrower position than Di Maria normally would. The combination left Sergio Ramos exposed at right back and afforded Dortmund the possibility for plenty of attacks down their left flank.
Sure enough, Dortmund stunned Real Madrid with a scorching start that produced the opening goal.
In the seventh minute, the irrepressible Marco Reus won a ball in the middle of the park and drove through the heart of Madrid's defense before shooting low to the back post. Diego Lopez made a fingertip save, and Lewandowski was only inches from tucking home the rebound.
Moments later, Lewandowski and Dortmund found the right combination. Gotze curled a cross from the left—the same side left open by Real's makeshift formation—and Lewandowski stretched to turn the ball in at the back post for a 1-0 Dortmund advantage.
The hosts were more than worth their lead, and Real failed to make an impact until midway through the half with Ronaldo's free kick from distance. And when Real did score, the goal came with both controversy and a bit of good fortune.
Dortmund had a penalty claim when Reus was felled by Raphael Varane in the box. Replays were inconclusive, and while there was some contact, Reus appeared to fall easily. Regardless, there was hardly time to argue. Seconds later Mats Hummels' error freed Gonzalo Higuain, who teed up Cristiano Ronaldo for the equalizer.
The controversy could have made trouble for some teams, but not Klopp's "monsters of mentality."
Lewandowski restored Dortmund's lead in the 50th minute, receiving a pass in the box—onside despite Real's protests—before turning and poking into the goal. He completed his hat-trick with another clever turn and another lethal finish into the top corner five minutes later.
The Pole then all but sealed the tie with an emphatic penalty kick in the 67th minute, blasting it so hard down the middle that Lopez almost didn't have time to move out of the way.
It was a brilliant performance by Dortmund and Lewandowski, made all the more impressive by the late-breaking news about Gotze and the job Bayern had done to Barca only one day before.
It was so impressive, in fact, that Tuesday night now feels the slightest bit less incredible. That's the power German football now wields in world football.