Bayer Leverkusen through to Europa League final with record-breaking draw

Bayer Leverkusen produced another unbelievable late turnaround to draw 2-2 with Roma in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final and reach the showpiece match courtesy of a 4-2 aggregate victory.

Boasting a healthy 2-0 advantage from the opening battle in Rome, the Bundesliga champions nearly threw away their continental and treble dreams, as a pair of Leandro Paredes penalties either side of the half-time whistle brought Daniele De Rossi‘s men level on aggregate.

However, a devastating own goal from Gianluca Mancini and last-gasp strike from Josip Stanisic ensured that Xabi Alonso‘s men would scrap with Atalanta BC in this year’s final in Dublin on May 22, while also prolonging their phenomenal unbeaten run into record-breaking territory.

Now without defeat in a staggering 49 games, Leverkusen’s unbeaten sequence is the longest ever in Europe since the introduction of UEFA club competitions in 1955, surpassing Benfica’s 48-match streak from 1963 to 1965 that they had already equalled.

Furthermore, the treble fantasy remains alive for the reigning German champions and DFB-Pokal finalists, while Roma experience all-too familiar Europa League heartbreak after falling short in last year’s final against Sevilla.

The headline team news from both camps was the exclusion of two star attackers from the starting XI, as neither Florian Wirtz nor Paulo Dybala were given the nod by their respective managers; Amine Adli and Jonas Hofmann instead supported Adam Hlozek in the hosts’ attack.

Meanwhile, Sardar Azmoun and Romelu Lukaku started in tandem up top for Roma, whose efforts to claw their way back into the tie started in tepid fashion, as Leverkusen took control of the second leg from the off

Paredes penalties turn semi-final on its head

Half-chances fell the way of Exequiel Palacios and Lorenzo Pellegrini at either end of the field before tempers boiled over, as Roma defender Leonardo Spinazzola dropped to the turf injured, but Jeremie Frimpong continued to charge down the explosive right flank.

An almighty fracas broke out between the two sets of players, but the only man who ended up having to leave the pitch was the stricken Spinazzola, replaced by Nicola Zalewski with just 21 minutes gone.

The quarrel ignited a fire in Leverkusen’s bellies more than it did Roma, who were extremely fortunate not to go 3-0 down on aggregate in the 29th minute, as Palacios’s first-time curler struck the post and hit Mile Svilar on the back.

Rather than an unfortunate Emiliano Martinez vs. Arsenal moment, though, Svilar gratefully witnessed the ball roll across the six-yard box rather than into his exposed goal, and Evan Ndicka reacted quickest to hack clear.

The hosts’ pressure was unrelenting, though, and Roma had Svilar to thank for keeping them in the tie in the 39th minute; the Serbia international produced a top double save from Adli and Hlozek after a well-worked Leverkusen move down the left.

For all of the German champions’ domination, though, one moment of carelessness gave Roma a precious lead against the run of play in the 43rd minute, as Jonathan Tah pulled back Azmoun in the box as the Iranian tried to meet a cross.

Referee Danny Makkelie did not hesitate to point to the spot, and as Matej Kovar dived to his right, Paredes crashed a confident penalty down the middle to send the visitors ahead and cut the aggregate deficit in half.

Stanisic heroics make Leverkusen record breakers

Roma’s unwarranted advantage heightened the tension inside the BayArena, but Leverkusen picked up where they left off at the start of the second 45, but Alonso’s men were missing that killer touch in the final third.

Die Werkself also failed to make the most of a couple of counter-attacks, and they gifted Roma their second golden ticket of the evening in the 64th minute, when Hlozek used his hand to protect his face from an incoming cross but conceded the second penalty of the game in the process after an on-screen revie.

The unfazed Paredes stepped up again and opted for the bottom right-hand corner as Kovar dived to his left, miraculously drawing Roma level on aggregate and leaving Leverkusen’s magnificent unbeaten record under severe threat.

Alonso’s men have been no strangers to outrageous late turnarounds this season, but another gilt-edged opportunity passed them by in the 73rd minute; Tah’s mishit drive from range turned into a useful pass for Adli, but his snapshot sailed just wide with Svilar beaten.

However, after the hosts were their own worst enemies inside their own box, a Roma calamity put Leverkusen back in control of the tie in the 82nd minute, as Svilar came for a corner but missed, and the ball struck the shoulder of an unawares Mancini and trickled into the bottom corner.

Roma appeals for a foul on Svilar fell on deaf ears – the goalkeeper had actually clattered into his own man in Chris Smalling – and the latest Leverkusen fightback was almost complete in the 89th minute, but Frimpong could not beat Svilar from a tight angle after running nearly the full length of the Giallorossi half.

A one-goal defeat would have still sufficed for Leverkusen to advance, but in the last of seven added minutes, Granit Xhaka slipped in Stanisic down the left, and the defender cut inside onto his right foot before bending a low strike into the bottom corner to etch Leverkusen’s name into the record books

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