Lars Bender's maiden goal in European competition set the platform for Bayer 04 Leverkusen to open their account in Group E with a 2-0 victory against KRC Genk.
One of the Bundesliga's most promising defensive midfielders, Bender is not reputed for a keen eye for goal. However, his firm angled drive on the half-hour put Leverkusen ahead before substitute Michael Ballack struck in added time to earn Robin Dutt's men three points, though only some inspired goalkeeping from Bernd Leno denied Genk reward for a spirited showing.
Suspended domestically, André Schürrle was a conspicuous absentee in the weekend defeat by FC Bayern München, and the welcome return of the German international's pacy directness may have brought the opener had he hit the target from Sidney Sam's cut-back. Though that incident silenced Genk's vocal travelling support, they – like their team – had already made their presence felt. Only Stefan Reinartz's lunge denied Marvin Ogunjimi an opportunity at point-blank range with Jeroen Simaeys heading over from the resulting corner.
Ogunjimi then brought a low save from Leno before Renato Augusto stretched to fire just wide as the game ebbed and flowed excitingly. Given the attacking talent on show, Bender was an unlikely contender to score the opener. However, when the ball broke to him after Stefan Kiessling had been halted, his confident strike from a tight angle betrayed no inkling of it being his first goal on such an exalted stage. A rare lapse from Leno gave the visitors an opportunity to level that Jelle Vossen could not take, while at the other end László Köteles produced a save as brilliant as the shot Renato Augusto whipped gracefully towards the top corner.
A single goal at the break was scant reward for the teams' exertions, though Kevin De Bruyne's curling free-kick would have added to the scoreline soon after the restart had Leno not anticipated its flight goalwards. Schürrle, though, continued to show why he is one of Germany's brightest talents and he should have scored, only for the poise that had allowed him to jink mesmerisingly away from two defenders to desert him with only Köteles to beat.
Given the way the game had unfolded, it was unsurprising Genk should create another opportunity. Half-time substitute Elyaniv Barda was the architect, Ogunjimi meeting the Israeli's flighted cross with a powerful downward header, but Leno's superlative reflex stop denied him an equaliser. With seconds remaining, a Ballack volley from the edge of the box deflected off Anele Ngcongca and into the bottom corner as Leverkusen head into back-to-back meetings with Valencia CF on a positive note. Genk will hope for greater reward when they meet Chelsea FC in their next two group stage encounters.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.