When my wife Alex and I went to watch RB Leipzig play in the 4th tier of the German football league system, I told her that in a few years theyâ€™d play in the Champions League, and that Real Madrid and Manchester United would be coming to play football in Leipzig.
Alex laughed at me. â€śDelusions of grandeur,â€ť she said. Now here we are.
Last Wednesday I went to see RB Leipzigâ€™s first match in the Champions League, the worldâ€™s most prestigious club football competition.
While AS Monaco may not ring any bells to those unfamiliar with football, the team had played in the semifinal of last seasonâ€™s Champions League. Moreover, they are the current French champions, and back in 2004, they had reached the CL final.
The game thus promised to be interesting, but given Leipzigâ€™s lack of experience in international matches, I was fairly certain that the evening wasnâ€™t going to end well.
I went to the game with my dad and it was great to see the entirety of Leipzigâ€™s demographic mix represented at the stadium â€“ there were families, workers, businessmen and couples. The crowd also reflected Leipzigersâ€™ increasing ethnic heterogeneity. The atmosphere was cheerful and relaxed, and there was none of the latent aggressiveness I have experienced with some of Leipzigâ€™s other teams.
That is what I love about RB â€“ you can safely take your kids to a game.
Champions League games are particularly peaceful affairs, as alcoholic beverages arenâ€™t sold at the stadium. I didnâ€™t tell my dad, and he drank his 0% beer in blissful ignorance.
The feeling you get when entering the Red Bull Arena is magnificent. The enormous open space, 40,000 people illuminated by bright floodlights, all excited, all eager to see the teams enter the pitch.
And when the 22 men arrived, the moment finally came that everyone had been waiting for â€“ the Champions League anthem.
Die Meister, die Besten, les meilleures Ă©quipes, the Champions.
I think pretty much everyone in the stadium had goosebumps at this point.
The game itself was entertaining but not spectacular. Leipzig maintained their usual fast-paced style that is driven particularly by Yussuf Poulsen and Emil Forsberg. This gave Monaco the opportunity to exploit the gaps in Leipzigâ€™s defence.
From my point of view, Timo Werner, who is currently praised as Germanyâ€™s best striker, failed to meet expectations. However, Upamecano, who joined RB Leipzig very recently, performed brilliantly as a defender.
The game ended 1-1, which I felt was thoroughly justified, given that neither team was dominant.
Leipzigâ€™s first Champions League game was a success, especially considering that AS Monaco is probably the strongest team in Leipzigâ€™s CL group, which is also composed of FC Porto and Besiktas Istanbul.
All in all, it was a great evening that Iâ€™ll probably never forget. By having a team in the Champions League, Leipzig is overcoming some of its provinciality, and soon there will be few Europeans left who havenâ€™t heard of Leipzig.
Cover photo: Red Bull Arena. By Philipp – Flickr; Leipzig von oben, Zentralstadion; CC BY 2.0.