The long-awaited day has arrived, and after 48 years our men's football team played again in the knockout stages of an international cup competition, after their predecessors reached the 1975 CWC final. After a fine autumn, the UEFA Europa League group winners faced Bayer Leverkusen of Germany in the first leg of the round of 16, a team they met in the UEL group stage in 2021, losing 2-1 away from home and winning the return leg 1-0.
Injuries have not eluded our team in recent times, but the fire has been burning in the eyes of our available footballers for days to fight back against the "pharmaceuticals". Bayer 04 and Fradi have both changed coaches since then, with the home side under the guidance of Spaniard Xabi Alonso, who said before the game that Ferencváros were a similar force to the one that beat Monaco in the group stage in the autumn, and the Germans in the last eight. In contrast, our coach Stanislav Cherchesov, reacting to the words of our former head coach Peter Stöger, admitted that Leverkusen were the favourites, but added that it meant nothing. Our head coach has put together the following starting line-up for Thursday: Dibusz - Botka, Knoester, Abena, Civic - Esiti, Vécsei - Marquinhos, Zachariassen, Traoré - R. Mmaee. After the warm-up, the team jogged to the 2,000-strong Fradi camp in Leverkusen before heading to the dressing room. The fans also directed plenty of cheers to Stanislav Cherchesov, alongside the players.
Our supporters in the 30,000-seater BayArena created a home atmosphere right from the kick-off, which was taken by Marquinhos. Leverkusen, however, took the initiative, with the first situation being missed by the home top scorer Moussa Diaby in the 4th minute. Shortly afterwards, Botka had to cut out a dangerous centre from the five-yard box. In the 9th minute, Azmoun's shot was blocked by Abena, but within a minute Kerem Demirbay's shot from the 16th landed in the net (1-0). Our first shot came from Bálint Vécsei in the 16th minute, our midfielder shot 17 metres from the left after Traoré's clearance, but the ball went well over the goal. Diaby played dangerously on the right wing, in the 20th minute his cross went over everyone and almost threatened the goal, but we were able to score with a kick. Another hard shot from Diaby had to be protected from, Botka freed up. Unfortunately, in the 26th minute, at the end of a beautiful counter attack, Zachariassen only hit the post, who lifted Hradecky over after a Marquinhos flick and then a great spin from Vécsei. It was a great situation! In the 28th minute, Botka, who had the ball, fired from 18 metres, just wide of the right post. Those were our moments. The first yellow card warning went to Demirbay of Leverkusen, who kicked Ryan Mmaee, and after the incident coach Xabi Alonso was also yellow carded for a complaint. Towards the end of the half, the home attacks intensified again, with Wirtz firing wide of the left post at the end of one. In the 45th minute, Marquinhos was shown a yellow card to end the half.
Ryan Mmaee's shot started the second half but the ball flew wide the goal. A foul on Hincapie earned Zachariassen a yellow card in the 50th minute. The free-kick was not dangerous, unlike Wirtz's shot behind the defence, but Diaby missed it. In the 53rd minute, Eldar Civic got on the ball, then pushed the ball twice before firing just over Bayer's goal from 20 yards. In the 57th minute, after Esiti's slip, Wirtz set Diaby on his way, but his shot went wide of the target. Shortly afterwards we gave the ball away again in our own half, but this time the kick-off was an easy catch for Dibusz. In the 60th minute came match's first substitution: Adli replaced Azmount for the home side. We saw a big solo from Ryan Mmaee after the substitution, Esiti blocked a shot so hard that it turned into a launch, our Moroccan striker got to the opponent's baseline but without help he couldn't finish the attack with a shot. In the 66th minute, Mmaee's drive was long to Zachariassen, who was sneaking forward. Another home substitute was Hlozek, who replaced Diaby. In the 75th minute, Botka and Wirtz were yellow carded after a scuffle. Then came our first substitution, with Gojak coming on for Marquinhos. Kossounou was also yellowed for throwing the ball after the whistle. In the second half, Abena's heroic saves were much needed. Zachariassen had a shot at the end but it was saved by the goalkeeper.
Ferencvaros lost 2-0, but still have a chance of progressing to the second leg at the Puskás Arena on 16 March.
UEFA Europa League - Round of 16, 1st leg
Bayer 04 Leverkusen – Ferencvárosi TC 2-0 (1-0)
Leverkusen, BayArena, 25,000 spectators. Ref.: Massa (ITA)
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Hradecky – Kossounou, Tapsoba, Tah, Hincapie – Frimpong, Amiri, Demirbay – Diaby (Hlozek, 71.), Azmoun (Adli, 60.), Wirtz. Head cach: Xabi Alonso
FTC: Dibusz – Botka, Knoester, Abena, Civic – Esiti, Vécsei – Marquinhos (Gojak, 78.), Zachariassen, Traoré – R. Mmaee. Head coach: Sztanyiszlav Csercseszov
Yellow card: Demirbay (38.), Wirtz (75.), Kossounou (83.), ill. Marquinhos (45.), Zachariassen (50.), Botka (75.)
Goals: Demirbay (10.), Tapsoba (86.)
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