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Boniface’s Leverkusen beat Roma to make Europa League final

Nigeria striker, Victor Boniface, started from the bench but his club, Bayer Leverkusen, went through to the Europa League final 4-2 on aggregate. This is…

Nigeria striker, Victor Boniface, started from the bench but his club, Bayer Leverkusen, went through to the Europa League final 4-2 on aggregate.

This is after a stoppage-time goal from Josip Stanisic snatched a 2-2 draw at home on Thursday, extending their unbeaten run to a record 49 games.

In a rematch of last season’s Europa League semi-final, Roma came to Leverkusen 2-0 down after the first leg but leveled the tie-up despite having little possession thanks to penalties in each half from Leandro Paredes.

With the tie heading for extra time, Alex Grimaldo curled in a corner which goalie Mile Svilar failed to catch, the ball going into the net after bouncing off Roma defender Gianluca Mancini.

Stanisic then kept Leverkusen’s stunning record of late goals alive by scoring on the counter in the seventh minute of added time, breaking Benfica’s European unbeaten record dating back to 1965.

“We had chances to score goals early and didn’t – but hey we will be in Dublin,” Leverkusen boss Alonso told RTL.

“It was a special evening. There were tense moments but it showed the personality and the mentality of the team.”

“We didn’t know ourselves how we were 2-0 behind,” Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka said.

“To come back against a team like this is unbelievable – our desire is incredible. We’re in the final, we’re on our way to making our dream a reality and will do everything to bring the trophy back to Leverkusen.”

Bundesliga champions Leverkusen will meet Atalanta, who beat Marseille 3-0 (4-1 on aggregate), in the final in Dublin on May 22 with hopes of a remarkable treble still alive.

Six changes for Leverkusen
Alonso again mixed things up tactically and made six changes including surprisingly leaving star attackers Florian Wirtz, Victor Boniface, and former Roma striker Patrik Schick on the bench, instead leading the line with Adam Hlozek.

The changes did not impact Leverkusen’s rhythm as the hosts exploded onto the pitch, carving Roma up with creative, fluid movement.

Roma by contrast brought the fight and tried to unsettle the Bundesliga champions, picking up four yellow cards inside the opening 30 minutes.

Exequiel Palacios was the target for much of Roma’s roughhousery but the Argentinian World Cup winner almost had revenge after 29 minutes when his low shot hit the inside of the post and came close to bouncing in off goalkeeper Svilar’s back.

Svilar produced a spectacular double save to keep out shots from Amine Adli and Hlozek at the 38-minute mark.

Roma sent a long ball up the other end and within moments the referee pointed to the spot after Roma’s Bayer Leverkusen loanee Sardar Azmoun went down in a tussle with Jonathan Tah.

Palacios’ Argentinian teammate Paredes sent the ball down the middle and Roma were 1-0 up and back into the tie just before half-time.

The second half began like the first, with Leverkusen unable to make their dominance count on the scoreboard – before Roma won another spot-kick, this time via VAR for a handball against Hlozek.

Paredes scored again, sending the ball left to take a two-goal lead in the match and level the tie.

Roma held on for dear life and went to the ground frequently to hold onto the lead, reminiscent of their performance at the same venue in last year’s semi-final which netted a 0-0 draw and a spot in the final.

But with nine minutes remaining, Leverkusen won another corner which Grimaldo swung through the hands of goalie Svilar, who clattered into Chris Smalling, the ball then bouncing in off the face of Mancini.

Roma pushed forward hoping to send things to extra time but Bayern loanee Stanisic hit the Italians on the counter, sending his team-mates sprinting from the bench and keeping his side’s season-long unbeaten run alive.

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