Vidal vital to Leverkusen progress

Bayer 04 Leverkusen match-winner Arturo Vidal is eyeing the knockout stage after scoring a late winner against Aris Thessaloniki FC. "Hopefully that goal will make us stronger," he said.

Vidal vital to Leverkusen progress
Vidal vital to Leverkusen progress ©

Midfielder Arturo Vidal "thoroughly enjoyed" his dramatic late winner as Bayer 04 Leverkusen registered a 1-0 UEFA Europa League victory at home to Aris Thessaloniki FC.

The Chilean international scored in the 90th minute to ensure the Bundesliga side preserved their Group B lead in spite of a courageous performance by the visitors. "It was really nice to score the goal, I thoroughly enjoyed it," said the 23-year-old. "Hopefully that goal will make us stronger. We want get as far as possible in this competition."

Vidal also struck the bar with a fearsome first-half effort, but otherwise the Bundesliga club had a torrid time breaking down a solid Aris back line. "They defended really well, but we really needed these three points," continued the goalscorer. "We're in a good position now and can relax a bit going into our final two games."

Bayer can book their round of 32 place with victory at Rosenborg BK on 1 December, although pacey winger Sidney Sam, whose strike across the six-metre box led to the goal, knows the 2002 UEFA Champions League finalists will need to improve in the final third if they are to rubber-stamp qualification. "We'll have to look at where we went wrong this evening. We'll be working hard to make sure we put it right," he said.

"We knew it was going to be a tough match, but not that tough," added captain Simon Rolfes, who was brought on in the second half to give impetus to a Leverkusen side in danger of conceding. "We didn't create many chances but always believed we could get the win."

Midfielder Rolfes also had an indirect role in Vidal's goal, providing the pass that released Sam into the area. "I thought about shooting myself but I saw Sid make the run so I played him in. He got the ball across and somehow the ball went in. It was like watching in slow motion."

A heart-in-the-mouth moment for Rolfes perhaps, but far more excruciating for Aris midfielder Toni Calvo, who watched in horror as the ball squirmed in through the legs of team-mate Michel to leave the Greek team empty-handed. "We're obviously very disappointed because we came so close to beating a top European club. We were happy with every aspect of our performance, except the result," said the former FC Barcelona trainee.

Three points for Leverkusen keeps them one above second-placed Club Atlético de Madrid, so the two sides could be playing for top spot come their Matchday 6 encounter in Germany on 16 December. "Atlético are a good team but we proved in Madrid we can play at their level [drawing 1-1]. In front of our fans I think we can get a result," Sam concluded.