Football

'Wunderkind' coming of age

Dortmund hit by Reus' injury blow but can count on French starlet Dembele

ROUND OF 16, 2ND LEG
BORUSSIA DORTMUND BENFICA
  • Benfica lead 1-0 from first leg

With Germany winger Marco Reus injured, French "wunderkind" Ousmane Dembele will look to shine as Borussia Dortmund bid to overturn a first-leg deficit against Benfica in the Champions League tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

Dortmund host Benfica at their Westfalenstadion home in the last-16, second-leg tie, looking to overturn a 1-0 defeat in Portugal three weeks ago.

But the bitter news Dortmund were dreading was confirmed on Sunday - club captain Reus tore his hamstring in their 6-2 rout of Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday and is out until next month.

Midfielder Mario Goetze is also sidelined with a metabolic disorder since late last month .

The loss of Reus is a significant blow, but Dembele was on fire against Leverkusen and is enjoying a stellar first season in Dortmund.

The 19-year-old France winger has justified the 15 million euros (S$22.4m) Borussia paid Rennes for him by scoring six league goals and providing eight assists this season.

"I'm enjoying myself, but I can do better," said the 1.78m-tall Dembele.

The teenager showcased his dazzling skills with the opening goal on Saturday, turning Leverkusen's Tin Jedvaj inside out firing home on six minutes.

He then earned the corner that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted to make it 2-0 with just 26 minutes gone.

The French teenager has been attracting "Wunderkind" headlines with Dortmund since July when he ghosted past Manchester United's Luke Shaw and Marco Rojo before scoring an outrageous solo goal in Dortmund's 4-1 win on a pre-season tour of China.

I’m not a phenomenon, I’m just trying to be decisive for my teammates, there are a lot of talented young people in football. Borussia Dortmund winger Ousmane Dembele

"I'm not a phenomenon, I'm just trying to be decisive for my teammates, there are a lot of talented young people in football," Dembele told AFP in an interview.

Off the pitch, Dembele's introduction to Germany's top tier has been eased by fellow French-speaker Aubameyang, whom he regards as "a brother".

The league's top-scorer has benefited from Dembele's pin-point crosses this season on his way to netting 21 goals in as many matches.

Dembele says he has ironed out the early season chinks, no longer "stupidly losing the ball", as he puts it, and improving his finishing, which he demonstrated against Leverkusen.

Despite the absence of Reus, Dortmund are confident of overturning the 1-0 deficit and reaching the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in three years.

The German side have scored 12 goals in their last three league games and look to be hitting top form at the right time.

"We are brimming with confidence, the atmosphere within the team is great," Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel said after the win over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

"We are focused, we take it step by step, and that is a great development for the team and a really good phase for us at the moment."

The Portuguese side are equally deadly up front, having won their last seven matches in all competitions.

Striker Kostas Mitroglou, who scored the winner in the first leg, has grabbed 18 goals in his last 17 appearances.

"We are not worried about others," said Benfica coach Rui Vitoria. "Our focus is on us and what we have to do. Every game at this stage is a final for us." 
 - WIRE SERVICES

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