Dortmund young guns take aim at knockout stages
Borussia Dortmund's young guns shone in the absence of almost a dozen injured regulars to keep the side firmly on track for the Champions League knockout stages with a defiant 2-1 victory at Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.
Dortmund have struggled without Marco Reus, Raphael Guerreiro, Sven Bender, Andre Schuerrle, Adrian Ramos and Gonzalo Castro among others, picking up a single point in their last two Bundesliga matches with an inexperienced lineup.
"There will be setbacks, no doubt, given the age of the team and the three competitions we are playing in," Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told Reuters recently. "That is something that cannot be avoided."
However, there was no evidence of stage fright among Dortmund's talented youngsters on Tuesday as they took a 2-0 first half lead in Portugal before holding on for a win that kept them top of Group F on seven points from three matches.
Players like 18-year-olds Felix Passlack and Christian Pulisic integrated seamlessly into the starting lineup, while 19-year-old Ousmane Dembele looked equally as comfortable in what is his maiden Champions League season.
The audacity of holding midfielder Julian Weigl as he weaved his way past several Portuguese defenders to drill in their second goal with a maturity well past his 21 years was one of the highlights of an emphatic display.
"I really don't know exactly what I did when I scored," Weigl told reporters. "I think the last time I scored was with the under-19 team."
Coach Thomas Tuchel, in his second season in charge, has quickly overcome the departure of stalwarts Mats Hummels, Ilkay Guendogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the close season, plugging the gaps effectively, especially on the European stage.
"We were incredibly young and inexperienced," Tuchel said. "But then we go out and play this first half with such naturalness. So dominant, so strong and effective."
To top it off, Tuchel even brought on another teenager in stoppage time with 18-year-old midfielder Dzenis Burnic adding his name to the seemingly endless talent pool at the coach's disposal.
"I found it a really, really good performance from our team even though we started with two (former) reserve team youngsters and then we brought on a third one with Dzenis Burnic," said Dortmund sports director Michael Zorc.
"Now we must finish off at home what we started. We can take a really big step towards the round of 16 with our return match against Sporting."