Europe: Europa League
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By Ultan Corcoran@UltanCorcoran

Leverkusen's Europa League odyssey ends as Roma march on

In a bid to return to a first European final since 2002, Bayer Leverkusen prepared for the second-leg of their Europa League semi-final with AS Roma. Last Thursday’s narrow 1-0 loss for ‘Die Werkself’ in the Italian capital left greater impacts beyond the result – both Andrich and Kossounou sustaining season-ending injuries during the attritional game in Rome.

Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho stuck with an unchanged side from the first-leg matchup. For all of Leverkusen's dominance throughout the 98 minutes, Roma's defensively stout efforts would prove to be the winning formula. A 0-0 (1-0 agg.) draw was enough to send the Italian club into the final.
The Italian club started well as skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini fizzed his shot wide inside the opening minute. Roared on by the fierce BayArena atmosphere, the hosts eased into the occasion and assumed control for the half. A lethal 13th minute counterattack saw the fleet footed Diaby crack a thunderous effort off the crossbar. Soon after Demirbay stung the palms of Rui Patricio with a long-range strike as Bayer looked to turn the screw.

The loss of EURO2020 winner Spinazzola to injury came as a blow to the Roman outfit. While Leverkusen’s offensive output started to wane, Azmoun and Demirbay both managed to fire additional strikes down the throat of the busy Portuguese shot stopper. It remained level at the interval despite ‘Die Werkself’ boasting 73% of possession and outnumbering their visitors by 13 goal bound efforts to one.

Mourinho opted to withdraw Belotti for Wijnaldum upon the second-half resumption. Roma by default set up slightly more defensively with Pellegrini marginally further forward to support Abraham. Despite failing to trouble Rui Patricio with his earlier attempts, Demirbay drew the best out of the Roma keeper after the hour mark. The midfielder’s rasping strike seemed destined for the bottom right corner but for the fine save.

As the clock ticked towards the final 15 minutes, it looked like Leverkusen would fail to find that requisite tie-levelling goal. Amine Adli’s blocked effort fell to Azmoun who doubled on it but watched in despair as his shot tailed wide. Ultimately, the time management that many have come to associate with Jose Mourinho sides was enough to see Roma over the line.

Despite the draw, Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen crash out 1-0 on aggregate as Roma march on to the Budapest finale on May 31st.

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