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02 May 2024

Bayer Leverkusen continue unbeaten run to close in on Europa League final

02 May 2024

Bayer Leverkusen took a huge step towards the Europa League final after a deserved 2-0 first-leg win in their last-four clash against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico.

Florian Wirtz gave Leverkusen a half-time lead and Robert Andrich struck a superb second as the German champions proved too strong for the Italians and extended their unbeaten run to 47 games in all competitions this season.

Xabi Alonso’s side, beaten by Roma over two legs at the same stage of last season’s competition, remain on course for the treble as they take on Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final later this month.

Roma, who lost on penalties to Sevilla in last year’s final, had lost just three times in all competitions since head coach Daniele De Rossi replaced Jose Mourinho in January.

But after Roma striker Romelu Lukaku’s header hit the crossbar, De Rossi’s side gifted Leverkusen a 28th-minute lead.

Home right-back Rick Karsdorp’s back-pass fell short and Alex Grimaldo squared for Wirtz to side-foot home his 18th goal of the season for the German club.

Leverkusen underlined their superiority in the 73rd minute when Andrich curled a 25-yard shot beyond Roma goalkeeper Mile Svilar.

Roma’s frustrations boiled over after Andrich’s strike as words were exchanged and players from both sides became involved in a melee, resulting in yellow cards for Leonardo Spinazzola and Granit Xhaka.

Roma were made to look second best, but were not without other chances.

Bryan Cristante headed a second-half corner just wide and Piero Hincapie’s brilliant last-ditch tackle denied substitute Sardar Azmoun before fellow replacement Tammy Abraham headed over from two yards in stoppage time.

Leverkusen could equal Benfica’s record for Europe’s top 10 leagues of 48 games unbeaten, set between 1963-65, before they face Roma in the second leg next Thursday.

The other semi-final first leg between Marseille and Atalanta ended all square at the Orange Velodrome after Gianluca Scamacca’s early goal for the Italian side was cancelled out by Chancel Mbemba before half-time.

In the Europa Conference League, Olympiacos stunned Aston Villa in a 4-2 win at Villa Park, with Ayoub El Kaabi scoring a hat-trick.

The Morocco forward fired Olympiacos into a 2-0 lead before Ollie Watkins pulled one back for Villa in first-half stoppage time.

Moussa Diaby hauled Villa level early in the second period, but El Kaabi converted a penalty after Douglas Luiz had handled and Santiago Hezze restored the visitors’ two-goal advantage.

Fiorentina will take a 3-2 lead into the second leg of the other semi-final against Club Brugge after M’Bala Nzola’s stoppage-time winner.

The Belgian side played the final half-an-hour with 10 men after Raphael Onyedika was sent off for his second yellow card.

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