DThanks to Florian Wirtz, Bayer Leverkusen still has every chance of reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League. In the 1-1 (0-0) in the first leg of the quarter-finals against Union Saint-Gilloise, the international at least saved the draw with his goal eight minutes before the end. Bayer still have a lot of work to do in the second leg in Anderlecht next week, because on Thursday the Werkself lost a lot of their teeth to the Belgian outsiders, just like Union Berlin did in the round of 16.
Opponents in the fourth semi-final of a European Cup for Leverkusen after 1988, 1995 and 2002 would be either the sovereign Dutch leaders Feyenoord Rotterdam or last year’s Conference League winner AS Roma with coach José Mourinho. Rotterdam won the first leg 1-0 at home. The Nigerian Victor Boniface scored the opening goal for the Belgians (51′), who had already scored two goals and one assist in the previous round against Berlin, third in the Bundesliga.
Two hours before kick-off, it became clear just how euphoric the game was in Leverkusen. Several thousand fans welcomed the team bus. The bus was only able to make its way through the fans with difficulty, shrouded in a cloud of fog from numerous Pyros. But the Bayer team, which had only changed in one position, initially seemed rather nervous and agitated, and made an unusually large number of pass errors against the robust Belgians in the early stages. A counterattack in the seventh minute served as the first small chest release, in which Amine Adli served his colleague Wirtz quickly and who narrowly missed from 18 meters.
The hosts experienced a moment of shock in the seventh minute when goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky either miscalculated or had an extremely good eye. He wanted to let a harmless bounce from Lazare Amani jump over the goal, but the ball landed on the crossbar (13′). Fifteen minutes later, Hradecky had to intervene when Boniface shot at an angle.
Wirtz counters Boniface
After the corner that followed, Leverkusen were doubly lucky. First, the ball bounced off Jonathan Tah’s arm and hit the underside of the crossbar, then the video referee, looking at the images, decided that the handball was not a penalty. Now the chances to score increased, also for the Werkself. But Moussa Diaby narrowly missed twice (30’/45’+1), Piero Hincapié headed wide at the far post from two meters and an acute angle at the best opportunity (40′). Overall, the Belgians fought the strengths of the Bundesliga well. It was exemplary that Jeremie Frimpong and Diaby on Bayer’s strong right side could hardly exploit their speed.
And then the goal actually fell on the other side when the strong Boniface flicked the ball from ten meters into the far corner. Bayer now ran, but increasingly wildly and hectically, which rarely posed any major problems for the disciplined guests. In the final phase, however, the redeeming equalizer came when Wirtz aimed exactly with a long-range shot.
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