By Mark Bennett
Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrated their return to the UEFA Champions League with a França hat-trick helping them to an emphatic win against Czech title-holders FC Baník Ostrava.
França gave Leverkusen the lead on eleven minutes, but the Bundesliga side had to wait until the final quarter of the match to extend their lead. They did so emphatically, scoring four goals in 21 minutes as Juan and Dimitar Berbatov both found the net, while França added two to complete his hat-trick.
After missing out on the competition last season, having reached the final in 2001/02, Leverkusen started the game looking to make up for lost time. With less than a minute on the clock, França had the first chance of the game after a good interchange between Berbatov and Bernd Schneider, but the Brazilian could not find the target.
Leverkusen looked especially dangerous when they kept the ball to feet and maintained rapid bursts of passing, and after eleven minutes their positive approach paid dividends. Robson Ponte released a shot from the edge of the area that Miroslav König could not hang on to leaving França with an easy finish.
After a frenetic start the game slowed as both sides struggled to create openings until the game reignited on the hour. First Zdenek Pospech put a decent headed chance wide before, three minutes later, team-mate Miroslav Matušovic's shot also missed the target.
Leverkusen finally snapped into life when França doubled their lead on 67 minutes. The striker collected the ball on the edge of the area after compatriot Ponte's through ball and he slotted his second of the game.
Baník refused to lie down though and could have equalised five minutes later but Czech international Marek Heinz was twice denied. First he saw his header cleared off the line by Jacek Krzynówek before a second header moments later came back off the bar.
Leverkusen stretch lead
Within two minutes Juan headed Leverkusen's third, and after that Leverkusen entertained the BayArena crowd with some slick football. Berbatov made it 4-0 with eight minutes remaining, before França capped a lively display with his third goal of the night on 88 minutes. Bar a sensational turnaround in Ostrava in a fortnight, Leverkusen are heading for the group stage.
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