The Leverkusen pros danced in front of their fans, with coach Xabi Alonso watching proudly from around 30 meters away. Germany's last title hope in Europe is Bayer instead of Bayern.
The Werkself were the only Bundesliga club to reach the semi-finals of a European Cup competition after a performance that was already ready for the title for long stretches and can dream of their first title in 30 years. Two days after FC Bayern Munich were eliminated from the Champions League, Bayer advanced to the semi-finals of the Europa League with a 4-1 (2-0) win in the second leg of the quarter-finals at Union Saint-Gilloise.
The first leg against second-placed Belgium, who had knocked out 1. FC Union Berlin in the previous round, ended 1-1. Moussa Diaby put coach Xabi Alonso's team ahead after 66 seconds in Brussels on Thursday, Mitchel Bakker (38'), Jeremie Frimpong (60') and Adam Hlozek (79') followed suit. The Belgians' goal was scored by Casper Terho (64').
Sports director Simon Rolfes and managing director Fernando Carro ran after the final whistle and hugged each Bayern player individually. "Definitely" is a really big day, said Robert Andrich on RTL and praised the supporters: "I'm very, very happy that we pulled the thing today." After the 3:1 they swam a bit, but with the fourth goal they put the lid on it.
In the footsteps of unity
Eintracht Frankfurt only ended the German wait for a title in the second most important European Cup after 25 years last year. Leverkusen had won the previous competition, the UEFA Cup, in 1988, the last Bayer title ever was winning the DFB Cup in 1993. Bayer last reached the semi-finals of a European Cup 21 years ago. At that time, the Rhinelanders even advanced to the Champions League final, but lost it 2-1 against Real Madrid.
In the Lotto Park, where RSC Anderlecht usually plays their home games, Bayer got off to a dream start. Senne Lynen actually intercepted the one-two between Florian Wirtz and Diaby, but tipped the ball into Diaby's foot. The France international dribbled past goalkeeper Anthony Moris and slotted in.
The quick goal also meant that Bayer had to do more defensive work from the second minute without world champion Exequiel Palacios, who was injured in the first leg. The Belgians attacked with all their physicality, the Werkself fought back and hoped for a counterattack. They certainly came and after 16 minutes Diaby could have increased after a nice pass from Wirtz, but narrowly missed. Six minutes later, Hlozek went wide following a Bakker cross.
Preliminary decision before halftime
Eight minutes before the break, Bayer completed an outstanding attack worth seeing. One-two from Diaby and Wirtz this time in midfield, Diaby pulled up and served Hlozek, whose cross Bakker volleyed in the far corner. Saint-Gilles had at best a couple of half-chances before the break.
The hosts increased the pressure after the break, but the Leverkusen defense around Jonathan Tah, who had been strong for weeks, defended passionately and conscientiously. Bayer even upped the ante when Bakker successfully pressed Moris, the goalkeeper kicked the ball into Frimpong's feet and he hit the empty goal. But the Belgians still didn't give up and scored the goal and hit the bar through Simon Adingra (70'). Bayer's fourth goal provided clarity, Hlozek scored with a scrape after a shot by Diaby.