Leverkusen in tough spot facing Atletico in Champions League


MADRID: Thanks to Barcelona, every team facing a big deficit will be able to retain some hope of pulling off a miracle.

Bayer Leverkusen, which needs to overturn a 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday, is at the top of the list.

“It’s clear that it’s a result that makes it difficult for us to advance to the next stage, but in the last few days we’ve seen what can happen in football,” Leverkusen coach Tayfun Korkut told Spanish daily Marca. “We will not go to Madrid with the feeling that we’ve already been eliminated, we will go to fight until the end.”

Last week, Barcelona overturned a 4-0 loss against Paris Saint-Germain, winning 6-1 in the second leg to reach the quarterfinals. No other team had reversed a four-goal deficit in the Champions League since the current format was introduced in the 1992-93 season.

“Comebacks can always happen,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “Not just because of what happened in Barcelona. We want to play our game and we are expecting a fight.”

Leverkusen may have a difficult time against an Atletico team that has only two losses in its last 33 home matches in European competitions.

Winless in its last four matches, Leverkusen will at least have a new coach on its bench with experience in Spanish soccer.

“We all know how much Atletico fans get behind their team,” said Korkut, former Turkey midfielder who has coached Leverkusen for one match. “I experienced that when I played for Real Sociedad. I remember we won there 2-1 and I scored a goal in the year when we were runner-up in the league (2002-03).”

Korkut was appointed last week after Leverkusen fired coach Roger Schmidt amid its worst Bundesliga season in 14 years. Leverkusen had lost three games in a row, and five of its last seven, before Korkut took over for a 1-1 draw against Werder Bremen last weekend.

Leverkusen will be trying to become only the third team to overturn a home first-leg defeat in the top European competition. The only teams who did it were Ajax against Panathinaikos in 1995-96 and Inter Milan against Bayern Munich in 2010-11.

“We earned a very good result in the first leg but we can’t take anything for granted,” Atletico midfielder Koke said. “We have to give our best on Wednesday.”

Leverkusen hasn’t advanced past the last 16 of the Champions League since it lost to Real Madrid in the 2002 final.

Atletico, meanwhile, is looking to make it to the quarterfinals for the fourth straight season under Simeone. Virtually out of contention in the Spanish league, its best chance of lifting a trophy this season will come in the Champions League, the competition it lost to Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals.

“In the Liga, we’re behind in the fight at the top. But in the Champions League, we’ve been very good this season and we’re a step away from the quarters,” Atletico defender Diego Godin said. “It would be a very important step for us to take and it’s an important stage of the season both in Europe and on the domestic front. It’s up to us to finish the season strongly on both fronts.” –AFP

(NST)

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