Im­pres­sive Lev­erkusen waltz into group stages

The China Post - - SPORTS -

Bayer Lev­erkusen are into the Cham­pi­ons League group stages for the fourth time in five years af­ter beat­ing Lazio 3-0 in the sec­ond leg of their play-off on Wed­nes­day to go through 3-1 on ag­gre­gate.

Roger Sch­midt’s men lost 1-0 in Rome against the Ital­ian side in the first leg, but they re­cov­ered thanks to a ter­rific per­for­mance at the Bay Arena.

Af­ter Ste­fan Kiessling had hit the bar with a header, the hosts lev­eled the ag­gre­gate scores thanks to Hakan Cal­hanoglu’s goal five min­utes be­fore half-time and then Ad­mir Mehmedi dou­bled their ad­van­tage im­me­di­ately af­ter the break.

The im­pres­sive Karim Bel­larabi put the re­sult be­yond doubt when he tapped home two min­utes from time from Ju­lian Brandt’s pass to com­plete an im­pres­sive 3-0 win for the Ger­man out­fit.

As for Lazio, their hopes of reach­ing the main draw for the first time since the 2007/08 sea­son are dashed with the Ital­ians now en­ter­ing the Europa League.

Lev­erkusen went into the match hav­ing just beaten Han­nover 1-0 at the week­end to record backto-back Bun­desliga wins and they started at an elec­tric pace on Wed­nes­day.

Af­ter Dusan Basta volleyed over for Lazio, Cal­hanoglu forced a fine save from vis­it­ing goal­keeper Etrit Ber­isha from dis­tance, but the Turk­ish in­ter­na­tional got the goal he de­served af­ter 40 min­utes.

A hor­ri­ble mix-up in the Lazio de­fense handed the ball straight to the ex­cel­lent Kiessling whose at­tempted pass to Bel­larabi was de­flected off Ste­fan Radu into the path of Cal­hanoglu, and he kept his com­po­sure to fin­ish past Al­ba­ni­anv ‘keeper Ber­isha and ig­nite the at­mos­phere in­side the Bay Arena.

It was no more than Lev­erkusen de­served af­ter a high-tempo firsthalf dis­play and they turned the tie on its head just three min­utes af­ter half-time.

Bel­larabi — a men­ace through­out with his pace and trick­ery — played an inch-per­fect pass to Mehmedi and the Swiss in­ter­na­tional striker, who signed from Bun­desliga ri­vals Freiburg in the sum­mer, ri­fled an un­stop­pable shot past the hap­less Ber­isha.

Ste­fano Pi­oli’s Lazio were look­ing shell­shocked un­der the in­ces­sant wave of Lev­erkusen at­tacks and, af­ter Bel­larabi shot just wide, the visi­tors — win­ners of both the Cup Win­ners’ Cup and UEFA Su­per Cup in 1999 — were re­duced to ten men on 68 min­utes af­ter Mauri­cio re­ceived a sec­ond cau­tion fol­low­ing a trip on Kiessling.

One Lazio goal would’ve been enough to send them through on the away goals rule but it was Lev­erkusen who kept at­tack­ing and the 2002 Cham­pi­ons League run­ners-up killed off the tie with a third af­ter 88 min­utes.

19- year- old Ger­man prodigy Brandt — brought on for Mehmedi af­ter 76 min­utes — sprinted clear be­fore un­selfishly squar­ing to Bel­larabi who tucked home into an empty net to round off the scor­ing.

AFP

Lev­erkusen for­ward Ad­mir Mehmedi, left, and Lazio’s de­fender Ste­fan de Vrij vie for the ball dur­ing the UEFA Cham­pi­ons League sec­ond leg play­off match be­tween Bayer Lev­erkusen and SS Lazio in Lev­erkusen, western Ger­many, on Wed­nes­day, Aug. 26.

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