Leverkusen edge closer to Dublin as another record looms – Sport

BERLIN: Xabi Alonso’s rampaging Bayer Leverkusen will have an additional incentive in Thursday’s home second-leg Europa League semi-final agai­nst Roma: breaking a 59-year-old European football record.

Avoiding defeat against Roma on Thursday will not only mean a trip to Dublin for the Europa League final, it will also extend their unbeaten run to 49 games — the best mark in European football history.

A Eusebio-inspired Benfica went on a 48-game unbeaten streak between 1963 and 1965. The record has stood since, but Leverkusen have a golden chance of blowing it out of the water.

Alonso’s side has already overtaken Juventus’ 43-match unbeaten run from 2011 to 2012, which was the best of a team in the top five European leagues.

Already crowned Bundesliga champions for the first time back in April, Leverkusen are through to the German Cup final, where they face second-division Kaiserslautern.

Leverkusen won 2-0 in Rome last week and could set up a meeting with either Atalanta or Olympique de Marseille in the final with a one-goal loss, but breaking the record would be yet another outstanding achievement in an already brilliant season.

“A second leg is always a dangerous situation no matter the result before,” Alonso told reporters on Wednesday. “We are preparing to play well with good motivation and at our own game. We want to be aggressive, control and defend well as a team. We are expecting Roma to come with the hope of qualifying.”

Last season, Roma defeated Leverkusen over two legs to make it to the final and Alonso said the bitter memory of that May evening would motivate them.

“We haven’t forgotten what we experienced in our stadium and the feeling we felt last year. “We must use this energy and hopefully we can celebrate at the end.”

The other semi-final is on a more even keel after Atalanta came away from the Stade Velodrome with a 1-1 draw after having their backs to the wall for large parts of the first leg in Marseille last week.

Atalanta, whose trophy cabinet contains seven lower league titles and the 1963 Italian Cup, are looking to go one better than in 1988 when they reached the last four of the Cup Winners’ Cup as a Serie B team.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s side have been inconsistent for much of the season but are eyeing a historic climax to the campaign, with a Italian Cup final with Juventus coming up next week and Champions League qualification also up for grabs.

Marseille have lost their last three semi-finals in the competition and are seeking their first major European trophy since winning the inaugural Champions League in 1993.

In the third-tier Europa Conference League semi-finals, Club Brugge welcome Fiorentina, who hold a narrow 3-2 lead from last week’s first leg while Aston Villa will look to make a comeback away to Olympiakos in Athens, having suffered a surprise 4-2 loss at home in the first leg.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2024

Leave a Comment