Tuesday night it was Kylian Mbappé; on Wednesday it was Erling Haaland. In two games over 24 hours, Spain, for so long the scene of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, witnessed the two men most likely to replace them, marking an era of their own, offering a demonstration of why.
The Norwegian did not leave Spain with the match ball as the French had done, but for 45 minutes he gave a lesson in destruction, scoring two goals that Borussia Dortmund beat Sevilla 3-2.
There is something almost unnatural about Haaland, his impact on everyone around him is enormous, not only in the goals, but in the variety he has, the almost brutal beauty of his game, the panic that accompanies opponents when he plays. And while Sevilla fought back to make a match of this, Luuk De Jong set up a frenzied finish with a late goal, Haaland’s double and Mahmoud Dahoud’s beautiful shot finally served them up.
Sevilla had also opened the scoring. Fernando opened Suso to the left and swung in and shaped to hit him, sending Jadon Sancho in a leap to block a shot that didn’t happen. Taking a step closer, this time he fired, the ball past Jude Bellingham, cutting off Mats Hummels’ lead and ending up in the net. It was the seventh minute and it seemed like the perfect start, even more so when Jules Koundé came in and shot wide shortly after, but it didn’t last.
In fact, almost the time it took for Haaland to get going. Sancho’s footwork was quick, Dahoud moved smoothly down the middle and Bellingham passed and moved confidently. But Haaland is something else, factory built but breaking the mold. Every time it set off, you could feel the fear, an inhalation accompanying the surge, the speedometer needle steadily rising, and the defenders recoiling as if afraid to get in the way of this, this thing, this machine. After all, he wasn’t going to stop.
Out on the right he picked up the ball, Sergio Escudero slipped away, slid the ball down Joan Jordan’s legs and set off. Immediately, he could feel that something was happening. Diego Carlos certainly could, chasing Haaland passed it to Dahoud, who clipped and bent a magnificent curling iron to the far corner. This was the first time Dahoud had started a game in ten weeks; it was also the first time Bono had been hit in 729 minutes.
He didn’t have to wait long for it to happen again. For Haaland. There was a gasp as, without seeming to move his foot, he fired a shot that could literally be described as a breath. Bono saved him but couldn’t stop him.
Jorge Valdano once said memorably that when Brazilian Ronaldo attacked, it was as if the whole pack attacked, and there is something of that in Haaland. The second goal came in a stampede, Haaland shrugged off Jordan, ran to Sevilla and sought the double with Sancho.
The return pass was superb, subtle and perfectly played for Haaland to continue into the area and finish. The third was made by Reus, stealing the ball from Ivan Rakitic and Papu Gómez and taking it to the edge of the area, before sliding it into Haaland’s path to guide to the corner. Kneeling with his arms raised, the teammates ran towards him, knowing this was done.
Sevilla had the ball when the second half began, moving it in an orderly way and with greater intensity, determined not to let it pass, but Dortmund did not seem to care too much. Instead, they seemed content to wait for the space to open up before them and, for the most part, were quiet in the back.
Julen Lopetegui, the Sevilla coach, had removed Ivan Rakitic at half-time and made three more changes to the hour, although it was Jesús Navas who for a moment seemed more likely to open Dortmund. His delivery was the one that came to Escudero for an effort that was twisted wide open, the first notable moment since the break.
Lopetegui made one more change, Óscar Rodríguez introduced and immediately hit the inside of the post with a free kick with his first touch. If that was the only time, until then, that Marwin Hitz was concerned, Sevilla kept looking for a way back to this and, with seven minutes remaining, another Luuk De Jong volleyed on another Oscar free kick, with hope strengthened. The tension too. The damage was already done.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism