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Dortmund’s full house party spoiled as team problems return

April 4, 2022 GMT
Fans on the famous south tribune celebrate prior the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 2, 2022. After more than two years of coronavirus pandemic, Germany's biggest stadium was sold out with allowed 81,365 spectators. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Fans on the famous south tribune celebrate prior the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 2, 2022. After more than two years of coronavirus pandemic, Germany's biggest stadium was sold out with allowed 81,365 spectators. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Fans on the famous south tribune celebrate prior the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 2, 2022. After more than two years of coronavirus pandemic, Germany's biggest stadium was sold out with allowed 81,365 spectators. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Fans on the famous south tribune celebrate prior the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 2, 2022. After more than two years of coronavirus pandemic, Germany's biggest stadium was sold out with allowed 81,365 spectators. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
1 of 16
Fans on the famous south tribune celebrate prior the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, April 2, 2022. After more than two years of coronavirus pandemic, Germany's biggest stadium was sold out with allowed 81,365 spectators. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

BERLIN (AP) — It was supposed to be a festival of soccer to celebrate the return of fans and a fresh start after more than two years of coronavirus restrictions.

More than 81,000 supporters packed Westfalenstadion to capacity on Saturday, the first time since Feb. 29, 2020 — 763 days before — that Borussia Dortmund played in a full stadium at home.

Even the ultras returned as the hygiene measures were canceled for the Bundesliga match against Leipzig, and supporters lit flares before kickoff, sending plumes of yellow smoke around the noisy ground to match the home team’s colors.

Fans had marched together to the stadium with a sense of enthusiasm spurred by the prospect of a new start — the idea that the team had been underperforming in their absence but now, supported by Dortmund’s famed “yellow wall” of fans, it would help the players finally click into gear and mount a serious challenge to Bayern Munich.

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But Dortmund’s problems are older than the pandemic.

Leipzig seemed unimpressed by the yellow hordes as it snatched a 4-1 victory, leaving Dortmund nine points behind Bayern with six games left to play.

Some of Dortmund’s returning fans even whistled their team as the players trudged off the field.

“An extremely bitter result,” Dortmund coach Marco Rose said. “We actually wanted to get some momentum for the last phase of the season, but we pulled the brakes on ourselves.”

Bayern had already beaten Freiburg 4-1 earlier Saturday. If Bayern and Dortmund win their next two games, the Bavarian powerhouse could wrap up the title by beating Dortmund when they meet in Munich on April 23.

Dortmund had made a promising start against Leipzig with chances for Marco Reus and Erling Haaland but it was caught cold by two goals on the break from Konrad Laimer.

“A wild soccer game always falls in favor of the team that can counterattack,” Dortmund defender Mats Hummels said. “There’s no looking up anymore.”

Some fans on Saturday called for Rose to go. The Dortmund coach was supposed to mold the team into a genuine title challenger but has seen it collapse at times in embarrassing losses to Bayer Leverkusen (5-2), Ajax (4-0) and Glasgow Rangers (2-4).

Sebastian Kehl, who will soon take over from Michael Zorc as sports director, said before the latest loss that the club maintained its faith in Rose, who was coaxed from Borussia Mönchengladbach during last season.

“We’re convinced we’re on the right path with Marco. You need a bit a time for it,” said Kehl, who acknowledged an offseason overhaul of the squad. “I can basically say that we’re striving for change, talks are ongoing. We know that we want to do something, or must do something, in one or more areas.”

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Haaland’s future is one of the main topics for discussion. The 21-year-old Norway forward has scored 23 goals in 23 games across all competitions despite missing much of the season through injury. He can reportedly leave Dortmund for a relatively modest transfer fee this year because of a release clause. Dortmund‘s struggles this season will hardly convince him to stay.

Karim Adeyemi could replace Haaland from Salzburg but Dortmund has yet to agree on a transfer with the Austrian club for the 20-year-old Germany forward.

Dortmund has already signed Germany defender Niklas Süle on a free transfer from Bayern from next season and the club is reportedly considering a move for Freiburg defender Nico Schlotterbeck, too.

The fans are back this season, but Dortmund is already working toward next season.

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP