Bayer 04 Leverkusen 4-2 Liverpool FC (Agg: 4-3)
An incredible second-half performance from Bayer 04 Leverkusen saw them claim a place in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League after a 4-2 win against Liverpool FC.
Against all odds
With the game repeatedly seeming to fall beyond the 1. Bundesliga leaders' reach, Klaus Toppmöller's side defied the odds by breaking down the meanest defence in the Champions League to claim victory in a sensational game at the BayArena.
Lucio strikes gold
With six minutes to go, Leverkusen were 3-2 ahead on the night but set for an aggregate defeat, after they lost the first leg 1-0 in Liverpool, until Brazilian defender Lucio beat Jerzy Dudek for the all-important winning goal.
With the unsettled Liverpool defence reeling under the weight of relentless pressure from Leverkusen, Yildiray Bastürk found Lucio charging into the area, and the defender steadied himself before blasting the ball into the net through the goalkeeper's legs from a tight angle to send the home crowd into dreamland.
In a game that had more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, Leverkusen quickly chalked off Liverpool's advantage from the first leg as they attacked the FA Premiership side from the whistle.
Though Emile Heskey could well have opened the scoring for the visitors in the opening minute of the game after finding himself free on the right hand side of the penalty area, Leverkusen quickly got into their stride and tormented Liverpool with some superb, pacy, passing football.
After 16 minutes they took the lead. As the ball came to Michael Ballack from the right, 25 metres from goal, the midfield player dummied Steven Gerrard before lashing an unstoppable shot past Dudek's outstretched left-hand.
It was a dramatic side to what would prove to be one of the most dramatic games of this year's Champions League. Leverkusen warmed to their task and continued to pen Liverpool inside their own half, and were it not for the composure of Sami Hyypiä and Stéphane Henchoz, they could easily have gone further behind.
As it was, Liverpool weathered the storm and continued to threaten on the break. Michael Owen had already missed a one-on-one opportunity against Leverkusen goalkeeper Hans-Jörg Butt when they scored their shock equaliser after 42 minutes.
A swerving Danny Murphy corner from the left in one of Liverpool's rare forays forward found Abel Xavier unmarked in the penalty area, and the Portugal defender headed past the despairing Butt.
With Liverpool having regained the advantage in the tie, it looked like the German side might wilt, but tonight saw them in determined mood, and they began the second half with a renewed hunger for goals. Having sacrificed Zoltán Sebescen and Ulf Kirsten at half-time to bring on Dimitar Berbatov and Oliver Neuville, Leverkusen went all out for victory.
Ballack on target
They survived another scare as Owen hit the post from another one-on-one after 50 minutes before taking the lead again through Ballack after 64 minutes. With Leverkusen continuing to run Liverpool ragged, a ball from the right found Ballack speeding into the area and he calmly headed past Dudek from eight metres out.
At that stage, Liverpool still had their noses in front in the tie, but not for long as Leverkusen took the overall lead again after 68 minutes when Berbatov had the final touch in a goalmouth melee. Liverpool looked a spent force and even after Leverkusen made a defensive substitution, the home side still made all the threatening moves.
However, no one had accounted for the mercurial skills of Liverpool substitute Jari Litmanen. After 79 minutes, he gave the visitors the overall lead again. Gathering Murphy's darted ball into the area, the Finnish striker outflanked three despairing defenders before hitting a low shot beyond Butt from around the penalty spot.
As Leverkusen committed every man to attack again, it looked like Liverpool might earn an incredible victory against the run of play, but Lucio had different ideas. Leverkusen will now face the winner of Wednesday's tie between Manchester United FC and RC Deportivo La Coruña for a place in the final at Hampden Park in May.
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