Perhaps we should have known Borussia Dortmund would make life tough for themselves. Two late goals from Youssef En-Nesyri, the second deep into injury time, offered Sevilla brief hope of a remarkable resurrection. But ultimately it was the boot of Erling Braut Haaland that decided this tie, his two goals – to add to a pair in the first leg – upending a game that for long periods seemed to be tilting back towards the visitors.
Is there a surer thing in European football right now? Certainly there was an inevitability to Haaland’s contributions: the first coming after an opening half-hour utterly dominated by Sevilla, the second after a bizarre passage of play when he had a goal disallowed, missed a penalty, and still somehow scored.
“In four halves, we were superior in three,” said the Sevilla coach, Julen Lopetegui. “Haaland is extraordinary. He will define an era.”
But then this is the gift of Haaland: a game-breaker, a gamechanger, a one-man run of play. Indeed, perhaps the real point of difference between the sides was the contrast between Sevilla’s spasmodic goal threat – for all their dominance of possession – and Dortmund’s irresistible No 9.
Haaland did the damage in Seville three weeks ago and did so again on Tuesday: bullying Sevilla with his brute strength, evading them with his movement, subduing them with the aura that at the age of 20 already seems to possess its own irresistible momentum.
Until his first goal, Sevilla had been in control, looking good value for the two clear goals they needed to progress. The home side, for their part, were complicit dance partners: passive and porous out of possession, indecisive and error-prone in it.
Tonally and tactically, it felt like a smooth continuation of their late collapse against Bayern Munich on Saturday, when they surrendered an early 2-0 lead and lost 4-2.
At this point Haaland was largely a spectator on his own stage. He had completed one pass. And yet as he chased down another hopeless long punt on the Dortmund right, some coiled and latent menace seemed to stir in him. Against all odds, he won the ball. Thomas Delaney barged off the young France centre-half Jules Koundé with a savage urgency; Mahmoud Dahoud slipped a lovely ball through to Marco Reus, who cut back for Haaland to finish from close range. A deadly, devastating counterattack and Haaland’s ninth goal of this Champions League campaign.
Two minutes into the second half, Haaland had his second, overpowering Fernando before dinking the ball in from a tight angle. Or so we thought. VAR overturned the goal for a push, whereupon the referee, Cuneyt Cakir, awarded Dortmund a penalty for an earlier foul.
Haaland stepped up and hit a post. But as Sevilla were springing forward on the break, the whistle went again: Yassine Bounou had stepped marginally off his line before the kick was taken. Haaland finished this time, taunting Bounou for having the temerity to try to deny him a goal.
Six minutes after first putting the ball in the net, Dortmund were safely ensconced in the last eight. Or so we thought. En-Nesyri pulled a goal back from the penalty spot with 22 minutes left after a soft foul by Emre Can, before heading in a late consolation to jangle Dortmund’s nerves.
Even as Dortmund progressed to the quarter-finals for the first time in four years, it was possible to sound a note of concern. For while Edin Terzic’s side remain lethal on the counterattack, they are alarmingly brittle in defence and injuries have left their squad looking a little uneven. But where there is Haaland, there is hope.