Lazio earn late winner vs. Bayer Leverkusen in Champions League
Balde Diao Keita, a halftime substitute, proved to be the Lazio catalyst as the Roman hosts grabbed a precious 1-0 first-leg victory over Bayer Leverkusen in their Champions League playoff clash Tuesday night.
The Senegalese speedster raced away when Kyriakos Papadopoulos lost possession near the halfway line, holding off and outpacing Jonathan Tah before unleashing the deciding shot. The tough, uncompromising match saw Leverkusen do much of the attacking without being able to cash in on a possibly vital away goal.
The tie remains on the knife-edge, however, as the teams go to Germany for Wednesday's second leg next week. One of them will get the rewards of a lucrative group stage spot in the Champions League, while the eventual loser heads into the Europa League for the coming European season.
Both teams had been denied by the woodwork midway through an uncompromising first half. Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson handed out three yellow cards to the visitors while overlooking another foul by Wendell just before intermission that might have led to a second yellow on Leverkusen's Brazilian defender.
With the midfield cluttered and both teams giving no quarter, the goal-mouth action was limited throughout the night, but the match could have been 1-1 in the space of a minute's first half end-to-end action.
That bright spell came in the 26th minute when Bayer's Lars Bender ripped a 25-yard drive off the left post only so see the rebound quickly cleared to start a Lazio break in the other direction. Miroslav Klose was slipped in and managed to round keeper Bernd Leno only to run out of space in the box, able only to hit the left post with his attempt to cut the ball back into the danger area.
The key change came at the start of the second half, Lazio sending on the 20-year Keita for the elder statesman, Klose, with immediate effect. Keita almost scored with his first raid, a neat Felipe Anderson pass setting him free on the left. A quick Tah tackle, then a brave dive by Leno, prevented Keita from putting the Roman team on top in the second minute after the restart.
Leverkusen carried much of the play until being denied what initially appeared to be a good goal in the 70th minute after Stefan Kiessling and Karim Bellarabi broke on the right and combined to set up Hakan Calhanoglu's shot. The assistant's flag went up, against Kiessling, who was hit by the shot while determined to be in an offside position. He was drifting ahead of the shooter but replays showed that there were two Lazio defenders alongside him; the ultimate judgment went against the Germans and served to spark Lazio into raising their game.
Leno had to be outstanding to deny Keita from point-blank range a minute later after Tah gave possession away cheaply and set up the striker for a golden chance. Leno could do nothing in the 75th minute when Keita got the best of Tah in their 40-meter foot-race before sliding the ball safely into the net.
Papadopoulos got the benefit of the doubt in the 82nd minute when he hacked down Keita to prevent another breakaway, receiving only a yellow card from Eriksson for the ill-timed tackle. Lazio could not take advantage of the resulting free kick, and thus take only the minium advantage into next week's second leg.