Germany's 'historic four' reach last 16
German football history was made on Wednesday as all four Bundesliga teams in this season's Champions League made it through to the knockout phase of the competition.
Borussia Dortmund's dramatic late win over Marseille and Schalke's victory over Basel ensured they joined Bayer Leverkusen and defending champions Bayern Munich in Monday's draw for the last 16.
It was up to Dortmund-born Kevin Grosskreutz to complete the quartet, when his last-gasp strike secured a 2-1 victory at the Stade Velodrome, and with it Dortmund’s place in the knockout stages as winners of Group F. Schalke, meanwhile, beat Basel 2-0 to seal second spot in Group E.
German football magazine kicker hailed "The Historic Four" on Thursday's front page. With the German flag as the background, Pep Guardiola, Juergen Klopp, Sami Hyypia and Jens Keller all glance at the Champions League trophy.
"Right now, I regard the Bundesliga as the strongest league in Europe," former Germany captain Lothar Matthaeus commented in his kicker column. "That’s why I have indeed expected all four teams to reach the round of the last 16 in Champions League."
Since the introduction of the round of 16 in the 2003-04 season, German clubs have made a total of 23 appearances in the knockout stages in Champions League, with Bayern Munich alone qualifying from their group 10 times. The Premier League has made 37, La Liga 34 and Seria A 29. However, in recent years Germany has closed the gap, and in 2011 leapfrogged Italy in UEFA's coefficient, seeing the fourth spot in the competition taken from Serie A and given to the Bundesliga.
Franck Ribery, a Champions League winner last season and nominee for the 2013 Ballon d'Or, believes the standard of German football has risen immensely since he joined Bayern in 2007.
"The standard in the Bundesliga has developed enormously over the past few years," Ribery told kicker. "It is among the best leagues in the world, if it’s not already the best league in the world," he added, giving the example of Eintracht Frankfurt, who are struggling domestically but recently beat Bordeaux, currently sixth in France's Ligue 1, in the Europa League.
"It shows that the German teams are better by comparison," Ribery said. "The Bundesliga currently dominates in Europe."
Arsenal’s German centre-back Per Mertesacker was left stunned when a Sky reporter told him that four German teams had made it to the knockout stages. "No -- I think it’s three teams," he said.
But when the reporter explained the situation to the Germany international, he said: "Oh wow! That’s impossible. Let’s look forward to those games between German and English teams."
The Premier League teams, who were each placed in with a Bundesliga side in their respective groups, won six of their eight Anglo-German duels, though only Chelsea and Manchester United will go into the last-16 draw as seeds.
"It looks like a German-English showdown in Champions League," the German tabloid Bild commented.