Impressive Leverkusen waltz into group stages
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.
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.