Dortmund’s players, fans stunned after falling short in German title race

Borussia Dortmund players go to their fans after the Bundesliga match against Mainz in Dortmund on May 27, 2023.

Borussia Dortmund players go to their fans after the Bundesliga match against Mainz in Dortmund on May 27, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AFP


Borussia Dortmund players go to their fans after the Bundesliga match against Mainz in Dortmund on May 27, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AFP

It takes a lot to stun Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall of fans into silence, even for a moment.

One of the most famous crowds in world football fell quiet Saturday as Dortmund missed the chance to win the German league title when it was held to a 2-2 draw by Mainz, making Bayern Munich the champion for an 11th consecutive year.

At the final whistle, the atmosphere resembled a funeral as Dortmund players sprawled on the ground in ones and twos, trying to process missing out on the title, and coach Edin Terzic had tears in his eyes as he approached the fans. Lines of security personnel holding ropes blocked off the edge of the field, ready to hold back a tide of fans that never came.

“It’s brutally disappointing,” said defender Mats Hummels, the only player remaining from Dortmund’s last title-winning team in 2012, in televised comments. “We had it in our own hands, we had it in our hands after our great second half to the season, but today we should have closed the deal and we didn’t do that. That’s down to us alone. … The next days will be brutal.”

Dortmund started the day with a two-point advantage over Bayern, but a nervous start to the game gave way to disbelief. Mainz scored first once, then doubled the lead after a missed penalty by Sebastien Haller, the striker who returned mid-season from cancer treatment to power Dortmund’s title challenge.

The crowd was again loud as ever in the second half as Dortmund started creating chances, eventually rewarded by Raphael Guerreiro’s goal in the 69th minute. Dortmund coach Edin Terzic threw caution to the wind, replacing defenders with forwards and bringing on a 17-year-old, Julien Duranville, for his first Bundesliga game.

There was a roar when Bayern conceded a goal in the 81st minute — briefly putting Dortmund back on top — then a hush descended over the 81,000-plus crowd as news filtered through that Bayern had scored again eight minutes later, enough to win the title unless Dortmund won its game too. Dortmund needed two more goals, but only scored one.

It took time for Dortmund’s fans to find their voice after the final whistle as the players were consoled by Mainz’s squad. They eventually gathered in a line in front of the Yellow Wall to pay German soccer’s traditional tribute to the fans. The only obvious sign of disorder was a single drinks cup hurled at Mainz players as they left the field, which fell short and splashed the roof of the dugout. Dortmund police said events in the stadium and wider city were “an overwhelmingly peaceful process.”

Fans had been filling the bars around Dortmund’s stadium for hours before kickoff. Among the sea of yellow-and-black shirts were plenty with the name of star players — Erling Haaland, Ousmane Dembélé, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — who came and went without a title during Bayern’s decade of dominance, and then had greater success elsewhere.

That list could soon include Jude Bellingham, the England midfielder who was an unused substitute Saturday with knee pain, and who is widely expected to leave the club in the summer after three seasons.

The most popular name on the shirts in and around the stadium was that of Dortmund-born forward Marco Reus, who joined his hometown club in the summer of 2012, weeks after its last Bundesliga title win. He is still waiting for a title of his own after 11 seasons.

A parade had been planned in Dortmund for Sunday, to be attended by up to 250,000 people. The wait goes on.

Dortmund may not get a better chance in a while to end Bayern’s title run. No team has won the German title with a points title as low as Bayern’s 71 in the last 13 years, and few clubs have disrupted their own seasons in the way Bayern’s management did by firing Julian Nagelsmann in March and hiring Thomas Tuchel.

After Dortmund drew with Mainz on Saturday and lost out to Bayern, the Bundesliga trophy was to be taken away from the stadium with no presentation. Bayern had to celebrate its unlikely triumph in Cologne with a copy of the trophy.

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