When Sevilla FC hosts Borussia Dortmund for the remaining berth in its Europa League group Wednesday night, a team that has won the UEFA Cup twice in recent years, played in the Champions League and is home to a number of world-class players will face off against a squad that had been condemned to failure but a few years ago.
And yet the underdog is the favorite.
It's all or nothing in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium on Wednesday. Dortmund must win, or the team will be eliminated from international play next spring.
Much is at stake: moving on to the Round of 32, millions of euros in TV revenue, but most of all, both teams hope to underscore their ambitions for Europe by advancing to the next round.
To claim that Dortmund has impressed this season is to understate the obvious: They have taken the Bundesliga by storm and infected fans with football fever. Add to that Sevilla's poor form—as evidenced by losing their last five games straight—and the Germans are favorites, even on foreign terrain.
But what's with Sevilla's world-class squad? Navas? Injured. Fabiano? Out of form. Kanouté, a shimmer of hope? The Malian striker missed a penalty in Sevilla's 3-1 loss to Almeira, a team destined for relegation in La Liga.
Quite the opposite for Dortmund: Responsibility for advancing to the next round rests on several shoulders. Barrios, Kagawa, Sahin, Hummels—all have impressed this year. The ease with which the team operates impresses.
14 wins, only one tie and one loss with 39 goals scored and only nine goals against in domestic play—no team in Europe can put up as impressive statistics as Borussia.
And even if Europa League results have been less spectacular than the team's performance in the domestic league, Dortmund nevertheless convinced fans of its potential in international play as well. In each group match, Jürgen Klopp's squad was the better team, suffering only from a lack of coolness in front of the goal and poor officiating decisions.
Wednesday night, Borussia Dortmund will once again be able to show why it belongs into the Champions League. Quick play, fore-checking, a squad with one collective will: To win.
But in the end, the score counts. Dortmund will have to convert on the scoring opportunities it creates. If it doesn't—and Dortmund is eliminated—the Europa League will lose one big attraction. That would be unfortunate for football fans the world over.
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