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Champions League 2023-24: Dortmund’s Terzic seeking positive spark in crucial Milan clash

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Edin Terzic’s Borussia Dortmund can seal a spot in the Champions League last 16 by winning at AC Milan on Tuesday, sparking some positivity amid a stuttering domestic campaign.

Already ten points behind league leaders Bayer Leverkusen with just 12 games played, Terzic’s men have however impressed on the European stage this season.

Dortmund sit first in a Champions League group which includes Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle, having conceded just two goals in four matches.

In the league however, they are shipping more than 1.5 goals per game on average and look out of the title race with only a third of the season gone.

Now at the helm for almost a year and a half, Terzic has faced heavy criticism in Germany, with some calling for the 41-year-old’s head.

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Terzic and those in charge at Signal Iduna Park can help silence the chatter by securing progress to the knockout phase against last season’s semifinalists.

‘Not that good’

Speaking at Dortmund’s AGM on Sunday, club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke contrasted his side’s performances in the league with their showings in Europe.

“We were hoping for two or three more points (in the league) at this stage,” Watzke said, “but the sky isn’t falling.”

“We are in first place in the (Champions League) group which cannot be over-estimated. The group is fragile and anything can happen.

“On Tuesday, we have a chance to qualify early with a win. I wouldn’t have dared to dream of that at the time of the draw. That’s the truth.”

Watzke said the club had “been exposed to a media barrage for months that I have not experienced in ages.

“I have to double check every week that we’re not fighting relegation!”

The CEO, who took over in 2005 and helped save Dortmund from financial ruin, said “we beat Newcastle, but even then they say ‘well they’re not that good either.’”

Despite the criticism, Watzke has been Terzic’s main advocate, often calling for patience from the Dortmund-born-and-raised coach.

The CEO has drawn parallels between Terzic and former mentor Jurgen Klopp, who did not finish in the top four until his third season in charge when he won the league.

‘We don’t need to hide’

Dortmund drew the reverse fixture 0-0 with Milan in October and another draw, or a loss, would most likely mean the German side needs to beat Paris at home in December to progress.

Besides the morale boost that would come from making it through this season’s strongest Champions League group, qualifying has huge financial importance for the member-run club.

Dortmund, who were European champions 26 years ago, ended a run of three matches without a win in the league on Saturday but made tough work of it, coming from two goals down to beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 4-2 at home.

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“It was extremely important that we started the next block of games with a win,” Terzic said on Saturday.

Terzic joked with reporters after the Gladbach game that “it definitely won’t be boring with us this season” before crediting this side’s “spirit, energy and faith” in the comeback.

Dortmund has now rescued 11 points from losing situations this season, the second-highest in the Bundesliga.

They face a season-defining set of fixtures in the lead-up to Christmas, taking on Milan, league leaders Leverkusen, third-placed Stuttgart in the German Cup, RB Leipzig and PSG.

Captain Emre Can, the former Liverpool and Juventus midfielder, said at the AGM on Sunday that the Milan game “won’t be easy at all but we’ll try and win.”

“We are on top of the table. We don’t need to hide… we want to measure ourselves against the best.”

Watzke also primed his troops for the challenge on Sunday, saying “we live for games like this.”

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