Borussia Dortmund and Schalke both advanced to the knockout stage with wins in the Champions League Wednesday night. Dortmund continued their dominant run in the competition, but Schalke needed something special.
Dortmund traveled to Amsterdam already looking like group winners, but a victory against Ajax would assure them qualification into the next round.
Marco Reus opened the scoring in the eighth minute when he was put through on the right wing by Mario Götze. The Germany international controlled the ball and sent a low, right-footed finish across goal and into the back of the net.
It was in the 36th minute that the provider became the scorer. Götze picked up the ball on the left wing, cut into the box and sent his shot past three Ajax defenders and goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer to make it 2-0.
Dortmund, out to prove they are the deserved leaders of their group, kept at it and in the 41st minute forward Robert Lewandowski picked up his first goal by tapping in the rebound from a Götze shot. The 3-0 lead put Dortmund firmly in control heading into the halftime break.
The visitors shook off any fears they would sit back in the second half when just over twenty minutes in, Götze again played creator, setting up Lewandowski for a brace with a cross into the box. The Polish striker acrobatically brought the ball down and sent a low shot into the goal to make it 4-0.
Götze left the game in the 70th minute having created three goals and scored one of his own. It was surely one of the more dominant performances from a German player in the Champions League in recent memory.
A late Ajax goal from Danny Hoesen did little to change the result of the game, and Dortmund finished with a win, and secured themselves a spot in the knockout stages of the competition.
It has been a dominant Champions League campaign from Dortmund this year, who manage to sit atop a Group D containing the league champions of England, Holland and Spain. They play Manchester City next at home on December 4.
Late goal gives Schalke narrow win
It took longer than coach Huub Stevens would have liked for the coach to qualify a team out of the group stage of the Champions League for the first time ever. An impressive long shot from Christian Fuchs proved to be the decider against Olympiakos, sending Schalke through to the Round of 16.
It was a strange first half in Gelsenkirchen, with Schalke spending much of the time in visitor's final third without scoring. Bad finishing and extra touches meant that the hosts put few solid chances on goal.
When Schalke did manage a shot, it was the former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll who came up big for the Greek side, producing a string of impressive saves to keep his team level.
Fuchs wins it
As the minutes ticked away in the second half, it looked as though a draw might be the final result, but a special moment from Fuchs changed the story. The Austrian defender picked up the ball outside the box and sent a low, powerful shot with his skillful left foot that skipped past Carroll and into the net.
One goal proved to be enough, and despite late pressure from Olympiakos, the hosts held on for the win.
Schalke now sit atop their group with 11 points and one game to play, having already qualified out of the group stage. They play away to Montpellier on December 4.
"We obviously want to finish first, and win our last game … for the fans and for the club," said Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes after the match.
For Dortmund, the Bundesliga is about finishing as Robin to Bayern's Batman. They took one step toward achieving that goal on Sunday with a narrow victory over Freiburg. In Sunday's late match, Mainz and Hertha drew.
As the alarm bells ring in Stuttgart, Thomas Schneider will take charge against Eintracht Braunschweig. But staying clear of the relegation trapdoor is also the target for Hamburg, Nürnberg, Hannover and Freiburg.