Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Leverkusen eye Atletico after Bellarabi milestone


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Leverkusen’s forward Kevin Volland (L) celebrates scoring 3-0 during the German First division Bundesliga football match between Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt in Leverkusen, western Germany, on February 11, 2017. SASCHA SCHUERMANN / AFP

Karim Bellarabi said hitting the German league’s 50,000th goal in Bayer Leverkusen’s 3-1 win at Augsburg was a confidence booster for Tuesday’s Champions League home clash against Atletico Madrid.

The Germany winger wrote himself into Bundesliga history on Friday as his 23rd-minute goal hit the milestone mark when he converted a precise cross from 17-year-old midfielder Kai Havertz.

“I was glad to be involved, it’s of course something really special,” said Bellarabi.

Diego Simeone’s Atletico are the visitors in the Champions League on Tuesday in the last 16, first-leg, with the return in Madrid on March 15.

“But now we have to look ahead. We want to really put our foot down against Atletico and give it all we have,” added Bellarabi.

His milestone score gave Leverkusen the lead before Javier Hernandez netted twice to leave the ex-Manchester United star with five goals in his last three games.

‘Chicharito’ is on fire again after an 11-match goal drought in Germany’s top flight.

Leverkusen have won their last two league games to ease the pressure on coach Roger Schmidt, amidst reports the club contacted namesake and Mainz coach Martin Schmidt as a possible replacement.

Leverkusen have not got past the Round of 16 since reaching the 2002 Champions League final and have suffered knock-out stage heartbreak in recent years.

They lost to Atletico Madrid on penalties in 2015 in the last 16, after it finished 1-1 on aggregate.

In 2014, they were hammered 4-0 at home by Paris St Germain at the same stage, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted twice, before a 2-1 loss in France.

That followed a 7-1 thrashing in the last 16 in 2012 at the hands of Barcelona, for whom Lionel Messi scored a record five goals, in a 10-2 aggregate loss after a 3-1 defeat at Leverkusen.

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