Bayer 04 Leverkusen ensured progress to the UEFA Champions League knockout round courtesy of a well-earned win against Real Sociedad de Fútbol and FC Shakhtar Donetsk's defeat at Old Trafford.
Although the margin was narrow, with Ömer Toprak's second-half goal the difference, the German side dominated in terms of quality throughout and only rue the yellow card which means a suspension for Emre Can. Starting the day third in Group A, Sami Hyypiä's men leap ahead of the defeated Shakhtar and into the round of 16 with dreams of UEFA Champions League glory well and truly alive.
From the outset, although the home side fizzed and buzzed around the pitch, there was an ominous assurance and calm about the visitors. Leverkusen not only performed like a team which only had victory on their mind, they also showed the patience and the intelligence of a side which felt completely sure that they had the superior goal power.
From the roars of support which poured down from the Txuri-urdin fans in the Anoeta to the intense work rate of Jagoba Arrasate's players there was little to criticise throughout the first half, but there was an absence of know-how from the hosts. Eñaut Zubikarai, a UEFA Champions League debutant at 29, had to watch Gonzalo Castro's early free-kick rebound off the woodwork and would have been helpless had Simon Rolfes not wasted a free header ten minutes later.
The deputy goalkeeper had to keep his side on terms twice before the break, saving from Son Heung-Min and Lars Bender and there was so nearly a grand premium for his work when, just before the whistle, Carlos Vela stretched out his boot to an Antoine Griezmann cross which zipped along the Leverkusen goalmouth – missing by a fraction.
Typically, at this level, the miss was costly. Shortly after the restart substitute Robbie Kruse did well to sprint away from José Ángel down the right. Eschewing an inside pass to Can, Kruse's dipping cross let Stefan Kiessling power in a header which Zubikarai excelled himself in saving. From the corner Gorka Elustondo and Toprak got in a tangle, the defender falling to allow the 24-year-old Turkish international to simply stab home his second Group A goal.
Immediately, bursting with confidence, Leverkusen could have been three up. Ángel somehow deflected over a gaping chance from Castro, Kiessling headed off the bar and then Zubikarai again saved from the towering German striker at the closest of range. As the match, and their European season, fizzled out Griezmann earned, and scorned, a series of efforts on goal. Not La Real's night, not their season.
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