RC Deportivo La Coruña 1-3 Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Goals from Michael Ballack, Bernd Schneider and Oliver Neuville gave Bayer 04 Leverkusen a 3-1 win against RC Deportivo La Coruña. The result secured top slot in Group D and a place in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League for the German side and condemned Deportivo to the runners-up spot.
Win would assure place
At the beginning of the night, Leverkusen entered the Municipal de Riazor stadium safe in the knowledge that, whatever happened in Turin in the game between Juventus FC and Arsenal FC, a win would assure them of a quarter-final place.
Encouragement for Leverkusen
A pre-match scan of the teamsheets gave the German side much encouragement as Deportivo elected to make eight changes to the side that dismantled Arsenal last week at Highbury with with Fran González, Diego Tristán and Juan Valerón all left on the bench.
Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmöller opted for a three-man attack with Carsten Ramelow as the central battering ram, Thomas Brdaric on the left, Zé Roberto on the right and Michael Ballack bursting forward in support from a central midfield role at every available opportunity. However, despite Leverkusen's promises of attacking intent, the game began at a stuttering pace with neither side proving capable of sustaining a consistent period of possession or maintaining sufficient pressure on their opponents to force an opening.
It took a quarter of an hour for the first goalscoring opportunity to arrive when Leverkusen midfield player Schneider fired the ball into the side-netting after a swift attack by the visitors. Eleven minutes later Leverkusen had an even better opportunity to take the lead when Thomas Brdaric broke down the right and curled a cross invitingly into the path of Yildiray Bastürk, who slid desperately to make contact with the ball only to see his shot bounce harmlessly into the arms of Deportivo's reserve goalkeeper Nuno Simões, who was playing in place of the rested José Molina.
Eight minutes later, another Brdaric cross enabled Leverkusen to take the lead. The 27-year-old forward picked out Ballack who rose well above Mauro Silva and headed past Simões, courtesy of a small deflection off the underside of the crossbar. On 40 minutes Bradaric almost doubled the visitors' advantage with a rasping shot which hit the top of the crossbar. That dramatic incident and the goal aside, the most striking characteristic of the first half was the high number of fouls committed, nine by the hosts and eleven by the visitors, and the three yellow cards awarded by Bulgarian referee Yordan Ivanov - including one for Leverkusen defender Jens Nowotny which will rule him out of the quarter-final first leg.
The second half saw a further 15 fouls as the game continued to struggle to attain any fluency but amid the general discord Leverkusen found two further moments of goalscoring clarity to light their way to the quarter-finals. Within eight minutes of the restart, Zé Roberto's curling corner evaded the home defence and found its way to Schneider at the far post. The Leverkusen man manouvered his way in front of Aldo Duscher and bundled the ball into the net from close range to extend the German side's lead.
Seeing his side's hopes of winning Group D evaporating fast, Deportivo coach Javier Irureta made three substitutions within the space of seven minutes - throwing on Juan Valerón, Sergio González and Diego Tristán. Spain international Tristán made the biggest impact, jinking this way and that on 75 minutes in the Leverkusen area before hitting a speculative shot which deflected off Diego Placente and into Hans-Jörg Butt's net.
The goal gave Deportivo brief hope of gaining the draw they needed to top the group but a well-worked Leverkusen move four minutes from time condemned the Primera División outfit to the runners-up spot. Ballack escaped down the right and his precision cross fell perfectly for substitute Oliver Neuville who headed his third Champions League goal of the season. Thereafter with the outcome assured, the game drifted into anti-climax until the final whistle when the Leverkusen players deservedly gave vent to their delight at reaching the quarter-finals.
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