LEVERKUSEN - Michael Ballack
came off the bench to score in injury-time and help Bayer
Leverkusen to a 2-0 victory over Racing Genk in a Champions
League Group E match on Wednesday after Lars Bender had given
the German side a first-half lead.
Ballack, who turned 35 on Monday, has struggled to find his
form at Leverkusen this season after his international career
was unceremoniously ended by coach Joachim Low in June but he
made an instant impact after coming on in the 80th minute.
The former Germany captain first helped to settle down a
nervous-looking Leverkusen side in the waning minutes. He then
chested down a loose ball some 16 metres in front of the goal
and blasted a partially deflected shot from the left into the
far righthand corner.
Bender had scored from long-range to put Leverkusen ahead in
the 30th minute, ending the home side's misery after they had
wasted a handful of chances. The Germany midfielder beat
goalkeeper Laszlo Koteles with a blast from a difficult angle on
the right that went inside the far post.
Leverkusen, getting their first win in the Champions League
since their last appearance in 2005, had lost three straight
matches, including a 3-0 drubbing to Bayern Munich in the
Bundesliga on Saturday.
The win lifted Leverkusen off the bottom of the Group E
standings to second place with three points behind leaders
Chelsea, who drew 1-1 with Valencia on Wednesday.
"It was a very important win for us," said Leverkusen coach
Robin Dutt, acknowledging that there was pressure on him and his
team after three straight defeats. "It was a great win for us,"
he told Sky TV.
Leverkusen, last year's runners-up in the Bundesliga but
languishing in 11th place in the German league, got off to a
sparkling start, putting Koteles under pressure throughout the
However, Germany midfielders Simon Rolfes and Andre
Schuerrle both squandered chances in front of the goal in the
first 15 minutes.
"We didn't have the finishing we needed," said Dutt. "That
obviously has something to do with [lacking] self-confidence.
But we played with a lot of determination and I saw we had the
Genk's Marvin Ogunjimi nearly equalised two minutes before
half-time. The Belgians had several chances in the second half
when Leverkusen defenders were caught napping.
"We haven't had a good run at all the last few weeks," said
Bender. "So it's only normal that even in a match like this
everything didn't go perfectly. We should have had it wrapped up
in the first half with the chances we had."
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