Xabi Alonso hugged his players one after the other, then waved again in the direction of the stands and disappeared into the dressing room.
The Bayer Leverkusen coach left the stage to his players, who after the hard-fought but befitting 2-0 win in the first leg of the Europa League against Ferencváros Budapest on Thursday were celebrated by their fans in the rain as if they had already reached the quarter-finals. Kerem Demirbay with an early goal (10') and Edmond Tapsoba with a late goal (86') scored for Bayer.
Alonso looks to Frankfurt: "We believe in ourselves"
Nevertheless, the second leg should be another hot game. The 33-time Hungarian champion is moving to the almost 70,000-seat Puskas Arena, where the final will also take place on May 31st. Over 50,000 tickets have already been sold.
"On the pitch, I had the feeling that we controlled the game very well. We slacked off briefly in the second half. Overall, we played a very good game, very mature and very focused. We're satisfied, we have to But keep going," said Bayer professional Nadiem Amiri, adding with a view to the competition: "We're not just playing here to see how far we can go. We have a good team, a lot of potential. Frankfurt has it also done. We believe in ourselves."
Leverkusen set the tone
At Ferencváros, Leverkusen lost 1-0 in their actual home stadium last year. At that time, Budapest had been coached by long-time Bundesliga coach Peter Stöger. Stanislaw Tschertschessow, former Bundesliga goalkeeper at Dynamo Dresden and long-time national coach of Russia, is now the coach of Hungary. Most recently, Bayer, who won the UEFA Cup in 1988 and reached the Champions League final in 2002, were among the top eight in the Europa League in 2020. Inter Milan was the last stop back then.
The first leg was a very special one for the Hungarians. For the first time in 19 years, a Hungarian club had wintered in the European Cup, at that time it was Debrecen. Not only an unusually large number of journalists accompanied the Hungarian champions, but also over 2000 fans. And at times they were so loud that the Leverkusen supporters had to make an effort to sing against them.
Bayer initially set the tone on the pitch. The fact that Demirbay scored the early opening goal with a nice right-footed shot from 18 meters could be given the attribute "of all things". Because the ex-national player is hardly in demand under Alonso. And when he and Amiri were set up as double six, many Bayer fans had an unpleasant memory: the two ex-Hoffenheimers had only played together in front of the defense once before, and it was 5-1 at home in October 2021 given against FC Bayern. However, in Robert Andrich and the Argentinian world champion Exequiel Palacios both regular six were suspended, Charles Aranguiz is also injured. At least they did their job properly on Thursday.
Ferencváros puts pinpricks - Bayer closes the sack
The Hungarians only appeared in front of the Leverkusen goal in the 26th minute. But that is very dangerous. Kristoffer Zachariassen lobbed the ball from seven yards over the storming Bayer keeper Lukas Hradecky - but it hit the bar. This exclamation mark gave Budapest tailwind, the superior leaders of the Hungarian league kept the game open until the break.
And after that, both teams played largely on an equal footing before Bayer scored the all-important second goal shortly before the end. Substitute Adam Hlouzek hit the bar with a free kick from 25 yards out, and Tapsoba headed the rebound into the goal.