Club Atlético de Madrid's UEFA Europa League defence ended with a whimper in Germany as they were held 1-1 by Group B winners Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Atlético's grip on the trophy was loose even before kick-off, knowing they had to better second-placed Aris Thessaloniki FC's result against Rosenborg BK to progress. Aris won 2-0, rendering the outcome meaningless, though the Liga side could muster only a point anyway, Fran Mérida coming off the bench to cancel out Patrick Helmes's opener.
Leverkusen had prodded – through Nicolai Jørgensen's surging run and shot over – and Atlético probed – via Sergio Agüero's ball across the face of goal – but neither keeper had any early reason to warm their palms amid torrential snowfall. Indeed, when the visitors did finally kick into gear just after the half-hour it was Fabian Giefer's legs that prevented Diego Forlán from converting Simão's cute cutback.
Forlán connected sufficiently enough on that occasion but, eight minutes before half-time, outdid himself with the sweetest of half-volleys which flashed only narrowly wide. Aris registered prior to the interval in Salonika but Quique Sánchez Flores's team still lacked urgency. Leverkusen emerged the more sprightly, Helmes spurning two bites at the cherry before making it third time lucky.
Stefan Kiessling assisted, flicking on Giefer's hopeful punt forward, and the Leverkusen No9 stroked calmly under David de Gea. Anything but forlorn, Atlético finally responded and were level within three minutes, Mérida – with his first touch – finishing calmly after valiant hold-up play from Agüero; game on.
Helmes should have seen to that but struck wide, and was later denied by De Gea. Mario Suárez fired recklessly over and Agüero did likewise, ensuring the visitors limp out thinking what might have been and the hosts march on with a spring in their step.
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