German football supporters have unhappy memories of England’s national stadium.
Many Germany fans still obsess about the infamous "Wembley-Tor" – Geoff Hurst’s goal that the officials judged to have crossed the line in the 1966 World Cup final as England went on to lift the trophy for the first and only time in their history. Never mind that Germany have gone on to win three more since.
But in North London these days, any talk of a "Wembley curse" applies to a team much closer to home – Tottenham Hotspur, the temporary residents in this part of town after their historic White Hart Lane ground was torn down, and construction continues on a new, much bigger facility.
Tottenham’s part-time Wembley tenancy got off to a bad start last season when they won just one of four home games in Europe, getting bounced first from the Champions League and then the Europa League. This season, they’re playing their Premier League matches here too, and so far, these have proven just as difficult in the unfamiliar surroundings. A defeat to Chelsea and a draw with Burnley have been sandwiched between impressive away wins at Newcastle and Everton.
What originally started as a joke about a "Wembley curse" slowly seemed to be embedding itself in Spurs players’ minds.
But Borussia Dortmund have unhappy Wembley memories of their own. On their last visit here, Bayern Munich beat them 2-1 in the 2013 Champions League final.
This time, Dortmund fell behind after just four minutes. Local hero Harry Kane found Son Heung-Min with a quick reverse ball and the South Korean beat Sokratis with a neat step-over before firing past goalkeeper Roman Bürki – who ought to have done better at his near post.
Dortmund were level soon after through Ukrainian international Andriy Yarmolenko who marked his first start for his new club with a wonderful curling effort into the top corner.
After failing to land Yarmolenko twice in the past, Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc finally got his man this summer, signing the 27-year-old from Dynamo Kyiv as a replacement for Ousmane Dembele. His strike stunned Wembley into silence, save for the raucous traveling support in one corner of the stadium. Was the Wembley curse about to strike Spurs again?
Not this time. Just seven minutes after Yarmolenko’s strike, Tottenham were back in front. Kane bullied his way past Nuri Sahin, drove beyond Sokratis and fired home – Bürki beaten again at his near post.
"We didn’t defend well enough in the key moments," coach Peter Bosz said afterwards, "The gaps at the back were huge."
Tottenham were able to ruthlessly exploit those gaps on the counterattack. But despite the renewed setback, Dortmund controlled the rest of the first half, dominating the ball and camping in Spurs' half.
But fortune deserted them at key moments. First, Christian Pulisic’s cross was cleared at the last moment by Jan Vertonghen with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lurking, before Shinji Kagawa’s through ball to the Gabonese striker was just over hit. Aubameyang then turned provider but Pulisic just couldn’t stretch quite far enough to make meaningful contact.
When Pulisic did eventually put the ball in the net, the goal was – on balance, correctly – ruled out with Aubameyang in an offside position. So close, but yet so far.
Shortly after halftime, it was clear that the Wembley curse had found a new target. When Aubameyang expertly volleyed home Mahmoud Dahoud’s cross, it looked like the 67,000 fans inside Wembley were set for a gripping second half with the teams level.
Inexplicably, however, the flag went up again. Two Dortmund players were indeed offside but Aubameyang at the back post was clearly on. In the Bundesliga, the video assistant referee would have quickly corrected the error but here in London there was to be no such help.
Should the goal have been allowed, Bosz was asked? "Yes, one hundred percent," was his curt response.
Tottenham rubbed salt in the wound just three minutes later and inevitably it was Kane again, the Englishman rifling home from close range.
"Kane is a great player and he showed his strength today," Bosz said. "But we knew that already."
This time, there was to be no Dortmund response as Mauricio Pochettino's men saw out the game for a 3-1 victory – despite Vertonghen seeing red late on for an elbow on substitute Mario Götze.
With reigning European champions Real Madrid also in the group, Tottenham have drawn first blood in what is likely to be a direct battle between them and Dortmund for second place. And with this victory, Spurs will feel they have lifted their Wembley curse.
After another disappointing Wembley night, Dortmund will feel the curse has found a new target.Matt Ford (in London)