The Werkself had beaten FC Köln 2-0 at the weekend and were ready for Liverpool. Diego Placente, suspended in the Bundesliga, was able to play against the Reds as was Jens Nowotny who missed the first leg due to a one-match ban. On the other hand, Calle Ramelow had to sit this match out for one too many yellow cards. Oliver Neuville started on the bench due to a knock. For Liverpool, coach Gérard Houllier made just one change from the side that won 1-0 at Anfield: The more offensive Vladimir Smicer was replaced by the defensive specialist Abel Xavier in Leverkusen. "We have to do everything we can to avoid conceding a goal and then we’ll have our best chance of knocking the English out," was the call from Bayer 04 coach Klaus Toppmöller for the quarter-final second leg. His opposite number Houllier was very relaxed at the pre-match press conference. Asked by an English journalist of how he would approach this difficult game, the Liverpool coach answered with a question: "How do you know it will be a difficult game?"
In the very first minute, Emile Heskey was through on the Bayer 04 keeper Jörg Butt and he had a great chance to give the visitors the lead after they made the better start and the Norwegian John Arne Riise had a shot from distance on six minutes. Then Michael Ballack plucked up courage and hit a powerful left-foot shot from 22 yards out that gave the Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek no chance (16'). Shortly after that, Michael Owen missed the chance to level in a one-on-one with Butt (20').
The evenly balanced game picked up again just before half-time. First, Thomas Brdaric was denied by Dudek (40'), then the Portuguese defender Abel Xavier rose highest from a corner to head home the equaliser at 1-1 (42'). Klaus Toppmöller brought on two attackers at the start of the second half in Dimitar Berbatov and Oliver Neuville (for Zoltan Sebescen and Ulf Kirsten). But the first big chance was again missed by the Reds playing in white in the shape of Michael Owen, who again was one-on-one with Butt, but his shot hit the left upright (49'). A wake-up call for the Werkself who took control of the game on the hour mark.
Ballack restored the lead with a header from a Bernd Schneider cross (63') and substitute Dimitar Berbatov made it 3-1 five minutes later (68'). However, the visitors from Liverpool hit back. Substitute Jari Litmanen scored and at 3-2 the Reds would be through to the semi-finals. The Werkself rallied for a final attack and Lucio, now playing up front, was picked out with an excellent ball from Yildiray Bastürk and he scored the crucial fourth goal at 4-2 (84'). The Brazilian giant smashed the ball through Dudek's legs.
There were a lot of special moments in this match. Michael Ballack's goal to break the deadlock, the joy unleashed in the stands after Dimitar Berbatov made it 3-1 to give Bayer the two-goal advantage for the first time; the shock of the Litmanen goal and finally the salvation at 4-2 that sent the BayArena wild. Above all, the final half an hour provided an emotional rollercoaster rarely seen in Leverkusen.
His strike from over 20 yards out in the 15th minute was the first highlight of the night. And, with his second goal, Michael Ballack set up the dramatic finish to the game on 63 minutes where he was the great inspiration, the boss on the pitch from the start. An absolute world class performance.
Liverpool's coach Gérard Houllier showed the winners respect: "Leverkusen are an astonishing team who impressed me." Campino, the singer with the Toten Hosen and professed Liverpool fan, was a spectator in a Reds shirt at the BayArena. "I'm thrilled by this atmosphere," enthused the front man of the Düsseldorf band during the game. After the match he showed himself to be a fair loser as he passed on his congratulations to Leverkusen: "You are the first German team to beat Liverpool in a European game since Dortmund in 1965. And not just in any old way but rather in this dramatic encounter. If you have to go out then it should be how my club did against you."
Klaus Toppmöller said after the nail biting 90 minutes: "We had to take such a high risk to put Liverpool under pressure so they make mistakes too. Fortunately the risky game paid off in the end." Rudi Völler, back then watching the game from the stands as the Germany coach, was full of praise: "It was an outstanding team performance by Bayer. However, you can highlight Michael Ballack and Lucio. But Oliver Neuville also exerted enormous pressure after he came on. Diego Placente also deserves a special mention." And the once again outstanding Michael Ballack declared: "Our midfield produced an absolute world class performance today. I think it was a perfect football match for everybody involved and a great experience."
The English newspaper The Independent wrote after the quarter-final exit for Liverpool: "Lucio strike ends Liverpool’s dream. Bayer factories supply aspirin to Europe but the pill that Liverpool had to swallow was much more bitter."
The Guardian analysed the reasons for the Reds failure: If there are two aspects of the Liverpool game you can rely on then it's the finishing of Michael Owen and the stability of the defence. Last night, on an evening of extraordinary drama, both left them high and dry when they were most needed."
The Rheinische Post was in raptures: "On this memorable evening at the BayArena, everybody involved looked agog at a work of art under a starlit sky as a whole rather than at individual details. Leverkusen's 4-2 win against Liverpool – an enthusiastic crowd experience football in all its fascination, 90 minutes as pure animation of the beauty of the game. And it didn't matter after the final whistle and the swapping of shirts that the Leverkusen and English players were mixed together as the applause was aimed everybody for the highly entertaining show."
"Lucio crowns thrilling festival," was the headline in the Kölnische Rundschau with their article equally as enthusiastic: "What a drama, what a game, what a night of football. Bayer Leverkusen have written another piece of history. This team, that nobody betted on before this season, took a big step towards a football dream last night."
For the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger Lucio, Ballack and Co. were after this match "the prodigies of Europe." The newspaper saw "A win for the modern over the ancient," a comparison of two different football philosophies. "The archaic, defensive, counter-attacking, that is common and unjust version of the old British style bumped into offensive short passing enthusiasts in Bayer shirts who stood out with insatiable hunger for goals."
Bayer 04: Butt – Sebescen (Neuville 46'), Lucio, Nowotny, Placente – Schneider, Ballack, Bastürk, Ze Roberto – Brdaric (Zivkovic 64'), Kirsten (Berbatov 46')
Liverpool: Dudek – Abel Xavier (Berger 75'), Henchoz, Hyypiä, Carragher – Murphy, Gerrard, Hamann (Smicer 61’), Riise – Owen, Heskey (Litmanen 41’)
Goals: 1-0 Ballack (16’), 1-1 Xavier (42’), 2-1 Ballack (63’), 3-1 Berbatov (68’), 3-2 Litmanen (78’), 4-2 Lucio (84’)
Booked: Nowotny, Zé Roberto – Riise, Henchoz, Xavier
Shots on goal: 17:7; on target: 11:4
Referee: Melo Pereira (Portugal)
Attendance: 22,500 (sold out)
"Our fans are incredible," said the visibly moved Michael Ballack after the final whistle. Rarely before had there been such a euphoric, thrilling atmosphere in front of a full house at the BayArena as on 9 April 2002. When the Liverpool anthem of ‘You'll never walk alone’ was played after the thrilling encounter both sets of fans – some 3,000 Liverpool supporters had travelled to Germany – cheered their teams off the pitch. "A bit of swing from Anfield at the BayArena," was the view of the Kölnische Rundschau. "It was the end of a magical night."
Bayer 04 were in the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in the club's history. And there they met the next heavyweight of English football: Manchester United won 3-2 in the second leg following the 2-0 win at Deportivo. The Red Devils coached by Sir Alex Ferguson would entertain the Werkself at Old Trafford in the semi-final first leg on 24 April.
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