Borussia Dortmund won, and with some style, but the game succeeded. A football match was played.
That is a much more consequential sentiment than the simple sentence it appears. It is actually a piece of history, and genuinely one of the most important football matches ever played, because of what it means for the future.
It may not have been football as we know it, but it was football.
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
It was maybe someway fitting that Erling Haaland – widely perceived as the future of the game – got the first touch, and the first goal, of this new post-Covid era. That Dortmund put on an exquisite football exhibition on an occasion of this context was all the more fitting, and all the more pleasing.
There can be no jibes that they shouldn’t have bothered coming back, although Schalke might feel like that.
There have been times over the past two months when some of the most influential people in the sport wondered whether any of this this was possible, whether we might indeed have to wait for a vaccine to actually play again, after what was the longest break competitive football – or football of any kind – has been forced into. That includes the wars.
It is why, as much as this game recharged the German title race as Dortmund went within one point of Bayern Munich with a crushing 4-0 derby win, it had stakes way beyond that.
The Bundesliga has shown the way. It is has set a precedent for the game. It will help change the thinking.
And sure, it wasn’t the way we would have idealised when thinking about football coming back. It certainly wasn’t a derby atmosphere, especially not the Revierderby’s usual atmosphere. It didn’t have an atmosphere at all.
That obviously isn’t preferable, and it isn’t the same without fans.
But it is better than no football at all, and it’s certainly better than no football clubs at all. That is ultimately why they were playing, so fans have something to go back to. So the game can survive.
There are bigger debates to be had about the problematic football economics that have led to this, that this website has covered in detail, but they are not debates for this weekend. The need was too pressing. The reality too brutal.
And the wider reality is that, no matter what economic structure football has, no pursuit or business can survive indefinitely if it can’t actually get going again.
This is why they played. It is in part for the fans, and so there are clubs to come back to.
That point shouldn’t be overplayed, either.
It might not have been the same without fans, but there were gloriously familiar elements to the game, that reminded us why we love football in the first place.
The best was that first goal, right down to its individual ingredients.
There was that purest piece of skill and showmanship in a backheel, from Julian Brandt. There was a classically simple cross, from Thorgan Hazard.
There was then a gloriously instinctive guided finish from – of course – Haaland.
It was just enjoyable to watch, which surely matters as much as anything. That’s what we grew up. That’s how we got into it. That’s why we want to keep watching. It kept going from Dortmund.
They extent of their sharpness was actually someway surprising given the extent of the lay-off, and even an initial rustiness. Schalke never really got out of that.
They even offered up another football classic from the other side – a goalkeeping error.
Markus Schubert’s pressured kick-out eventually found its way back to Brandt, who played in Raphael Guerreiro, who swept it back past the keeper.
Schubert might have done better there, too, as well as with the inevitable third goal.
As with so much else in this game, though, the quality of Hazard’s finish may have been too much. Superb.
The fourth was the extra flourish, as Guerreiro clipped it around Schubert with the outside of his foot.
Just brilliant, if not for Schalke or David Wagner. They now need another game as soon as possible. They have no choice but to look to the future.
Dortmund reminded everyone they are the future in so many ways. That they did it without Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus and Axel Witsel was all the more impressive.
There were a few other landmark elements to this game, like the introduction of four and then five subs.
None of it compared to the simple but seismic fact that a football match took place.
For once, hyperbolic language is appropriate with sport. This was a historic match.