The story of Borussia Dortmund's stunning run to the UEFA Champions League final


Thirty-two teams started the tournament, and now just two remain. Joining 14-time champions Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final are Germany’s finest, Borussia Dortmund, who have shown their many qualities over the past nine months. bundesliga.com takes a look back at their run, as well as what awaits them on 1 June at Wembley.

The summer of 2023 allowed Dortmund to contemplate the heartbreaking climax to the previous campaign, when they were minutes away from a first Bundesliga title in 11 years before Jamal Musiala struck for Bayern Munich at Cologne to snatch the Meisterschale away. Die Schwarzgelben would have secured top spot themselves had they beaten Mainz at home, but they struggled to deal with the occasion and could only draw 2-2, needing to come back from a two-goal deficit to do so.

How BVB recovered from that series of incredibly unfortunate events would prove pivotal and, at least in Europe, they have shown just what they are made of. Last August, Dortmund were handed the ‘Group of Death’, where they faced Ligue 1 champions and 2020 finalists Paris Saint-Germain, English Premier League outfit Newcastle United and European powerhouses AC Milan.

A trip to Paris kicked off the European season, and a convincing 2-0 defeat suggested Dortmund would be up against it to progress. Ultimately, though, that result proved to be a blip, as Edin Terzić’s men subsequently racked up the points. Their next fixture was a goalless draw at Signal Iduna Park against Milan, before back-to-back wins against Newcastle, both to nil, followed.

The 3-1 victory at the San Siro was arguably the standout performance of the group, and a 1-1 draw against PSG at home secured top spot. Across the six matches, different members of Dortmund’s squad stepped up at key moments – Gregor Kobel was immense against Newcastle, home and away, as was Niclas Füllkrug, while Mats Hummels’ Man of the Match display was largely behind his side’s success in Italy.

Borussia Dortmund showed team spirit to defeat AC Milan at the San Siro. - IMAGO/Fabrizio Carabelli

Julian Brandt, Marco Reus, Donyell Malen and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens also popped up with crucial goals – this really was a group effort. As a reward, BVB were given a round of 16 meeting with Eredivisie leaders PSV Eindhoven who, at that point, were unbeaten in the Dutch top flight.

After a 1-1 draw in Eindhoven, goals from Jadon Sancho, returning on loan from Manchester United to give Dortmund extra attacking impetus, and Reus set the team on a collision course with seasoned veterans Atlético Madrid.

Another round, another level up in the quality of opposition. Diego Simeone is a wily old fox who knows how to frustrate and grind down opponents, and Atléti threatened to do as much in the quarter-final first leg in Madrid. The hosts were 2-0 ahead and seemingly on their way to the semis before Sébastien Haller gave Dortmund a lifeline late on.
That strike was ultimately crucial. In front of their own supporters, BVB flourished and, while they were pegged back after racing into a two-goal lead, they showed their character to bounce back once more and prevail 4-2, inspired this time by midfielder Marcel Sabitzer.

With PSG next on the horizon, Dortmund knew they were two games away from Wembley, the scene of their 2013 final defeat to Bayern. Les Parisiens, led by Kylian Mbappé, are always formidable opponents, as the two teams’ group meetings indicated. Dortmund’s backline, though, have been heroic in recent months, and it would take something special to breach it.

Both at home and in France, BVB occasionally rode their luck – PSG hit the woodwork on six occasions across the tie – but for the most part, they managed the encounters with professionalism that was perhaps previously lacking. Hummels, in particular, led by example, putting in two MOTM displays, while also netting the winner in Paris to rubber-stamp a 2-0 aggregate win.

Mats Hummels has rolled backed the years this season, starring against PSG in the last four. - IMAGO/Dennis Ewert/RHR-FOTO

The celebrations, led by Terzić, were further proof of Dortmund burying their Mainz demons: while that bitter disappointment had left the head coach in tears of despair, he was full of joy here. The 41-year-old was a fan on the terraces when his boyhood club lifted Old Big Ears in 1997, and now he has the chance to write his name into the history books alongside his heroes.

Given Champions League qualification for next term is already guaranteed thanks to the exploits of German clubs in European competition this season, Dortmund’s attention can already turn to London. The mouth-watering prospect of a rematch with Bayern appeared to be on the cards, but as they so often do, Madrid found a way to progress late on at the Santiago Bernebéu.

While the chance for revenge may have been tantalising, BVB will instead reunite with Jude Bellingham, the 2022/23 Bundesliga Player of the Year and one of Dortmund’s star performers in recent seasons. Speaking after the last-gasp triumph over Der Rekordmeister, the Englishman said, “At Wembley against Dortmund. It’s a strange story and I can’t believe it.

Watch: Jude Bellingham's world-beating 2022/23 season

“I'm looking forward to it! The atmosphere, the game itself... Champions League final... I can't believe it! It will be nice to see some old friends. I never dreamed of playing this final against my former team in England.”

Now, Dortmund must prepare for their biggest challenge of all, against a team that has made this competition their own. The Bundesliga outfit, though, have overcome numerous obstacles throughout the season and will relish the opportunity to write the wrongs of 11 years ago.

It will be an especially emotional evening for Reus, who recently announced he will be leaving the club in the summer. The final could well be his 429th – fourth on the all-time list behind Michael Zorc, Hummels and Roman Weidenfeller – and most career-defining appearance. He and Hummels are the only two that remain and, with the former’s future also up in the air as his contract approaches its end, England’s national stadium could provide the backdrop for the most fitting of farewells.

Watch: Farewell Marco Reus: The story of a Borussia Dortmund legend

All in all, it promises to be a memorable occasion, and the top step of the podium is within touching distance.