Leverkusen edge past Atletico in Champions League last-16 first leg
By Richard Morgan
Last Updated: 26/02/15 10:40am
Bayer Leverkusen beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of their last-16 UEFA Champions League clash at the BayArena on Wednesday night.
The Bundesliga side took a 57th-minute lead through midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu’s fiercely struck effort.
And despite Atletico substitute Fernando Torres having a second-half equaliser controversially ruled out, the visitors’ hopes of returning home to Madrid with a crucial away goal ended when midfielder Tiago Mendes was sent off 14 minutes from the end.
Leverkusen, despite their poor recent league form, took the game to the La Liga champions right from the off in the knowledge that if they are to progress to the last eight, then victory in this first leg would be crucial.
And but for Mario Mandzukic, centre-back Emir Spahic would have given the home side the lead after just 12 minutes, only for the Atletico forward to hook his close-range effort of the line after a goalmouth scramble.
However, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international came even closer to breaking the deadlock 14 minutes later when his powerful drive from fully 30 yards beat Atleti goalkeeper Miguel Moya, only for the ball to cannon to safety off the crossbar.
Leverkusen’s physical approach to the contest was clearly paying dividends, although Diego Simeone’s side were not without their own moments of danger too in the first half, with forward Antoine Griezmann heading over when well placed early on.
And the diminutive Frenchman was then denied an almost certain goal by the fingertips of Leverkusen No 1 Bernd Leno seven minutes before the break.
But despite having to make two enforced substitutions in the first period, it was Atletico who finished the stronger of the two teams, with Leno’s reflexes again being tested to the full in keeping out Tiago’s close-range volley in first-half stoppage time.
After the interval, Leverkusen came out and took the game to their opponents once again, and this time they were rewarded for their efforts by taking the lead just before the hour-mark after fine approach play by Karim Bellarabi.
The tricky Germany international ran at the backtracking Atletico defence, before releasing the overlapping Calhanoglu with a delicious back heel, and the 21-year-old then beat Moya with a powerful drive that flew into the roof of the net.
Thereafter, Leverkusen looked to protect their narrow advantage, although they were helped massively when Atletico striker Torres saw a 76th-minute goal disallowed by the fourth official after the Spaniard had headed home Griezmann’s left-wing corner from close range.
However, subsequent replays suggested the officials had erred in adjudging the set play to have gone out of play before reaching Torres at the far post.
And then when Tiago almost immediately picked up his second booking of the night for a late tackle on Bellarabi, the first-leg tie was over as a contest as far as last season’s runners-up were concerned.