The smile says it all - Erling Haaland looks ready to take over the world at Borussia Dortmund. - © DFL
The smile says it all - Erling Haaland looks ready to take over the world at Borussia Dortmund. - © DFL
bundesliga

Erling Haaland, a striker set to dominate world football

An assist for the opener, two brilliantly taken goals to help Borussia Dortmund win a UEFA Champions League game in Spain for the first time in 25 years, and a growing impression that his performance against Sevilla was nothing out of the ordinary. Welcome to the latest episode of Erling Haaland's European exploits.

To get a sense of what Dortmund were facing at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on Wednesday night, you have to step back in time. First a few weeks: Sevilla had been on imperious form on home soil, winning seven in a row in all competitions, and they hadn't conceded in seven games. Then quite a few years: BVB's last Champions League win in Spain came in October 1996, before a run of 10 joyless jaunts to the country of Cervantes.

And then Haaland and his boys showed up. The Sevilla defence have been justly praised for their excellence in recent weeks - and goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was actually 71 minutes away from setting a new club record without conceding - but there is only so much you can do against a 6'4", 194-pound Norwegian predator who is obsessed with scoring goals.

Thanks to his brace against Julen Lopetegui's side, "Hammer Haaland" - as he was dubbed by Spanish newspaper Marca on Thursday - is now up to 18 goals in just 13 Champions League outings. To put that into context, he now has as many goals in Europe's premier club competition as Franck Ribery (87 games) and Ronaldinho (47 games). He has more than Francesco Totti, Michel Platini, Hristo Stoichkov (17), David Beckham (16), Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo (14).

Sevilla made the ideal start, forging ahead through Suso, but Mahmoud Dahoud's superb strike from distance got BVB level on 19 minutes. Haaland was involved, demonstrating the improved hold-up play and clever footwork that are becoming vital aspects of his game. He picked up possession on the right flank, burst away from Sergio Escudero and Joan Jordan, resisted a challenge from Diego Carlos, and then squared for Dahoud. The Germany international took care of the rest, curling in his first goal since August 2018.

"I don't know if you can say it's down to motivation or passion or whatever, but we were more online today, it was good," Haaland told UEFA.com afterwards. "It wasn't good to let in two goals, but it was good to score three away goals and take them with us."

Watch: Haaland has been on fire in the Bundesliga in 2020/21!

Despite a rather indifferent run of form in the Bundesliga - where they've claimed one win in six outings - Dortmund came up with a fine display in Sevilla, and senior figures such as captain Marco Reus were keen to point out that everyone played their part. Yet Haaland was unquestionably their chief contributor in the game's decisive moments.

Just look at how he made it 2-1. Fed by Jadon Sancho just inside the Sevilla half, the Dortmund No.9 turned and galloped towards goal, meaning Fernando and Jordan were unable to catch him. On the edge of the area, he nudged the ball left to Sancho, then dashed beyond Jules Kounde to slide home the Englishman's brilliant return pass. There were eight seconds between the ball coming to Haaland's feet and hitting the back of the net.

Dortmund coach Edin Terzic later explained that he wanted Haaland in a slighter deeper role for this game, less involved in the team's high press but ready to latch onto through balls behind the Sevilla defence. He was actually running away from goal when Reus made the interception that led to BVB's third. With Dahoud providing the option to Reus's left, Haaland quickly changed direction and sprinted right, collecting his captain's pass and slotting past Bounou for 3-1.

"We had a good plan," Haaland acknowledged. "Edin has been good and I've been talking a lot with him. He said today would be my game, that I would get my chances and I did. It was an important win."

Even if Sevilla made the scoreline more respectable thanks to a late second from Luuk de Jong, history remains on Dortmund's side. Over the past 50 years, 95 per cent of teams who have won 3-2 away in the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie have gone on to reach the next round. On 9 March, at the Signal Iduna Park, Terzic's men will be attempting to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since the 2016/17 campaign.

Four years ago, Dortmund exited the competition in highly irregular circumstances. On their way to the Signal Iduna Park for the quarter-final first leg against Monaco, their team bus was bombed - causing injury to Marc Bartra, and considerable psychological damage to everyone involved. Yet the players were still forced to go ahead with their game the following day, losing 3-2. A week later the Principality side completed a 6-3 aggregate victory, with a teenage Kylian Mbappe netting three of their goals across the two legs.

Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe met when Paris-Saint Germain suffered defeat at Borussia Dortmund in the 2019/20 Champions League. - Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Between them, Haaland and Mbappe have dominated the headlines this week. The 22-year-old Frenchman was Paris Saint-Germain's hat-trick hero in Barcelona on Tuesday, as his side romped to a 4-1 win. After nine seasons of hosting the extraordinary rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Spain was given a timely reminder that football's future megastars are currently plying their trade elsewhere. Symbolically, Messi was on the losing side for an out-of-sorts Barca against PSG, while Ronaldo's Juventus lost 2-1 to Porto.

With Ronaldo and Messi now 36 and 33 respectively, the prospect of an emerging battle between 20-year-old Haaland and 22-year-old Mbappe is a tantalising one indeed. The Dortmund frontman was even happy to invite comparisons with the FIFA World Cup winner on Wednesday by declaring that he had been inspired by Mbappe's performance in Barcelona, which took the PSG forward to 24 goals in 41 Champions League encounters.

"When I saw Mbappe scored a hat-trick yesterday, I got free motivation, so thanks to him!" Haaland confided, almost with a knowing smile, after his own star turn in Sevilla. The Norwegian's implicit admission that he had no desire to be outdone by the Frenchman brings with it echoes of Messi and Ronaldo, who spent over a decade spurring each other on to ever greater heights.

Watch: Haaland - the key to Dortmund's dreams

Haaland already has previous with PSG. He scored two superb goals in the first leg of their last-16 meeting a year ago, helping BVB to a 2-1 home win, but the French side turned it around with a 2-0 victory in Paris. There was a provocative edge to their win, too, as first Neymar and then the rest of his teammates replicated Haaland's 'Zen' goal celebration. Expect fireworks if they come up against each other later in this season's competition.

It feels like Haaland has been around for ages, but it was only 18 months ago that he burst onto the scene, hitting a Champions League hat-trick for Salzburg against Genk and then netting at Anfield in a seven-goal thriller with Liverpool. In that short space of time, he has already established himself as a world-class sharpshooter, that rare breed of striker who is expected to score in every single game. And, like Messi, Ronaldo or Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski, he has done pretty much exactly that.

In 2019/20, he notched 44 goals in 40 games for Salzburg and Dortmund. This season, even if BVB lie sixth in the Bundesliga table, he has scored 25 times in 24 outings. He has reached the point where a player's goalscoring prowess is so extraordinary that it actually becomes ordinary. And he doesn't even turn 21 until July.

Haaland is an insatiable competitor who once scored nine(!) goals in a single game for the Norway U20s, and has six in seven for the senior side. It is a shame that he and Mbappe will not get a chance to cross swords at this summer's rearranged UEFA Euro 2020, but their incredible talents and future achievements still look set to define the next decade of the sport.

A more immediate challenge for Haaland is to get Dortmund back on track in the Bundesliga, although you couldn't accuse him of not doing his fair share on the domestic front. He scored twice in the impressive 3-1 win over RB Leipzig in early January, and netted another brace in the recent 4-2 loss at Borussia Mönchengladbach. He also scored an extra-time winner against Paderborn in the DFB Cup, teeing up a chance for revenge against Gladbach in the quarter-finals. The competition looks like the club's best chance of a first major trophy since they last won it in 2017, especially with two-time defending champions Bayern going out in round two.

Saturday's meeting with bitter rivals Schalke provides BVB with the perfect opportunity for a much-needed pick-me-up in the league. The Royal Blues are rock bottom, winless in six, and they've lost their last two games against Dortmund by a combined scoreline of 7-0. Haaland scored in both of those matches, and will be determined to put in another decisive derby display to boost his side's hopes of a top-four finish - something he says BVB "have to do".

Watch: Haaland was on target vs. Schalke earlier this season

When Dortmund last tasted Champions League victory in Spain, edging Atletico Madrid 1-0 on 16 October 1996, they went on to be crowned European champions seven months later. It's a bit of a leap to suggest Die Schwarzgelben will do the same again in 2021 - but with a world-beater like Haaland leading the line, anything is possible.

Andy Smith