LEVERKUSEN, Germany – French forwards Antoine Griezmann and Kevin Gameiro tore Bayer Leverkusen’s defense apart to put the Champions League quarterfinals within reach for Atletico Madrid with a 4-2 away victory on Tuesday.
Gameiro created one goal for Griezmann and scored another, with Saul Niguez setting the Spanish side on its way, before substitute Fernando Torres completed the scoring in the Round of 16 match.
“We came back well and always believed in ourselves, but you have to admit that Atletico simply did well,” said Karim Bellarabi, who pulled one back for Leverkusen.
Manchester City defeated Monaco 5-3 in the night’s other first leg game.
Leverkusen was under pressure early on, with Benjamin Henrichs – who was booked and will miss the second leg in Madrid – forced to clear for a corner. Griezmann was then denied by goalkeeper Bernd Leno, seconds before Wendell was relieved to see an attempted clearance come off the crossbar.
The goal duly came in the 17th minute, when Niguez skipped over Kevin Kampl’s weak challenge on the right, ducked inside and unleashed a brilliant dipping shot over Leno and under the bar.
Griezmann made it 2-0 on a counterattack eight minutes later. Aleksandar Dragovic botched an attempt to kick the ball and Gameiro needed no further invitation to race onto it, drawing two defenders including the hapless Dragovic toward him, before pulling it back for the unmarked Griezmann to score off the crossbar.
Atletico was ruthlessly taking advantage of the space the German side was leaving in defense.
“It was an outstanding game from us,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “The first half was as good as perfect, intelligent and clever.”
Leno was forced to save from Griezmann after another well-worked counter involving Gameiro, who was justifying Simeone’s decision to give him the nod over Torres following his quick-fire hat trick at the weekend. Gameiro was still clearly high on confidence after three goals in four minutes, 47 seconds against Sporting Gijon on Saturday, La Liga’s second-quickest recorded hat trick.
Bellarabi scored just after the break, before Gameiro – who had earlier hit the post – restored Atletico’s two-goal lead with a penalty awarded after he was pulled back on the edge of the area by Dragovic before the hour mark. Dragovic was reacting in desperation after the French forward played the ball through his legs.
An own goal from Atletico’s Stefan Savic, who deflected in the rebound when Miguel Angel Moya cut out Julian Brandt’s cross, gave Leverkusen renewed hope in the 68th minute. But substitute Torres struck with four minutes remaining for Atletico to take a huge advantage back to Spain for the second leg on March 15.
“We invited Atletico to score in the first half,” Leverkusen captain Omer Toprak said. “We wanted to play better in the second – we did play better – but unfortunately it’s not a good result.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review's sports newsletter
Get the day's top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.