Normally, the Europa League is largely ignored in the soccer world. As the competition where the second-best teams go — those who either could not make it into the Champions League or were bounced out in the group stage — most people usually give it little thought. The only bright spot of the Europa League is that the winner is guaranteed a place in the next Champions League group stage.
This year, however, the Europa League has proved worthy of our attention. Teams like Borussia Dortmund, Fiorentina, Shakhtar Donestk, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool all found themselves in the Europa League. It made for an exciting series of matches between teams that normally never face each other. The most exciting of all, though, was the quarterfinal leg between Liverpool and Dortmund.
One thing that made this game truly special was that Jürgen Klopp, the current Liverpool manager, coached Dortmund before heading over to the Merseyside club. In his seven years at Dortmund, he led the team to two Bundesliga titles, an appearance in a Champions League final and two finals in the German version of the FA Cup. Needless to say, Klopp is still very well liked at Dortmund, and this was on full display during the two quarterfinal games between the teams.
While the first leg was exciting, ending in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool getting the crucial away goal, it was nothing compared to the second leg. Held at Anfield on the eve of the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster — an incident in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in a crowd crush — it was bound to be an emotional game. I would like to say that both the Dortmund fans and players were very classy. The team wore black mourning bands in honor of the 96 who passed, and the fans brought flowers in tribute. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” — the anthem of both Liverpool and Dortmund — was belted out before the game in such a way that it left me with shivers running down my back.
Once the game started, though, that somber feeling completely disappeared. Dortmund scored two beautiful goals within the first 10 minutes to effectively silence the electric Anfield atmosphere. Stuck in the middle of class, I could only watch helplessly in silent frustration. Let me tell you, it was very difficult to not yell at the screen. I am sure many people thought the game was basically over by halftime. They could not have been more wrong.
After the game, Klopp revealed that he had used the memory of Istanbul 2005 — when Liverpool came back from a 3-0 deficit to win the Champions League — as an inspiration for his players. Whatever he said clearly worked, because the Liverpool team that took the field after halftime played like a completely different team.
Almost immediately, Liverpool striker Divock Origi scored to bring the Reds back into the game. Predictably, Dortmund had another stunning goal of its own, leaving Liverpool to make up a two-goal deficit.
This is where the game turned into a thriller.
By this point, I was thankfully out of class and free to yell at my laptop in the safety of my own room. Philippe Coutinho scored a stunning goal before defender Mamadou Sakho had a header of his own that left the game tied up at 3-3 with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Because of Dortmund’s away goal advantage, Liverpool needed to score one more goal to advance.
The fans — myself included — were going crazy at this point. Klopp had riled them with his magnificent goal celebrations, but time was dwindling away. With just four minutes of extra time left, it seemed improbable that Liverpool would get the goal.
Then, in the 91st minute, none other than Dejan Lovren — a constantly criticized Liverpool defender — managed to get his head onto a pass. Boom. Goal. Suddenly it was 4-3.
Like pretty much everyone else, I completely lost it when Lovren scored, both on Twitter and screaming out loud. I’m pretty sure the people living next door thought I was going crazy. It was unbelievable.
This was hands down the most incredible game I have ever seen in my life. Twitter announced that records were broken in the United Kingdom during the game. A Liverpool fan who had to miss the game announced that his newborn son was going to be named Dejan after the hero of the match.
Against all the odds, when other teams surely would have given up, Liverpool managed to eke out a win. The Reds will now face Villarreal in the semifinals, with Champions League football looming on the horizon. Call it the Klopp effect, the memory of Istanbul or whatever you want. For us Liverpool fans, this was Anfield.
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