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Leverkusen's European Win Spices up Bayern Clash

Bayer Leverkusen became the third German team in the European Champions League on Wednesday, joining Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen. Bayer face Munich in the Bundesliga on Saturday -- and maybe in Europe in the future.

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Dimitar Berbatov, right, leveled for Leverkusen against Banik Ostrava

Bayer Leverkusen entertains Bayern Munich on Saturday in the "play of the day" in the Bundesliga with more than just the quest for three points and ultimately a championship title in common.

On Wednesday, despite losing 2-1 to Banik Ostrava on the night, Leverkusen reached the group stage of the European Champions League with a 6-2 aggregate victory and became the third German team to enter the draw on Thursday along with their opponents at the weekend and current Bundesliga title holders Werder Bremen.

It has been a long road for Bayer Leverkusen back to the continent's premier cup competition. After reaching the 2002 final, where they lost 2-1 to Real Madrid, the team buckled under the crushing disappointment of losing narrowly out on a domestic league, cup and European treble and a little under 15 months ago were almost relegated to the second division.

Manager Klaus Augenthaler has since rebuilt the club and has now guided it back into the Champions League with a new-look team stripped of stars such as Michael Ballack, Lucio and Ze Roberto, all now preparing to meet their former employer on Saturday as part of the Bayern Munich team.

Insummountable task for Czechs

In reality, it looked a dead cert that Bayer would reach the Champions League this year after the initial game against Banik Ostrava. It would have taken a monumental effort from the Czech side to overcome Bayer's 5-0 first-leg win but this did not stop them attempting it. Banik went ahead seven minutes before half-time after Michal Papadopulos had slipped the Leverkusen defense to put his shot beyond the despairing Hans-Jörg Butt.

Despite early efforts from Dimitar Berbatov, Leverkusen looked to be coasting through the second leg in the Czech Republic, with the hard work already achieved in the home leg in Germany. Their intent was clear from the start as Leverkusen coach Klaus Augenthaler fielded a young side including only four of the team who so comprehensively eclipsed Banik in the BayArena a week before.

Banik pushes young Bayer side

The onus was on the home side to push the visitors as they looked for an equally impressive display to overcome the lead Leverkusen brought with them. Miroslav Matusovic and Mario Licka worked well to create first half openings for Banik but they could not find a way past Leverkusen's Butt. Robson Ponte also had a decent opportunity to put the Czechs ahead but the relatively inexperienced side the Germans were fielding continued to stand firm.

The breakthrough came on 38 minutes when Leverkusen goalkeeper Butt failed to cut out a ball on the six-yard box, which was retrieved by Mario Licka who in turn fed Papadopoulos, who found the back of the net.

Parity gained and lost in minutes

It wasn't until the 83rd minute that Leverkusen achieved parity. Berbatov hauled Leverkusen level after Banik tried to play the Bulgarian striker offside but their appeals were in vain and Berbatov slotted home for the equalizer. But the balance only remained in place for six minutes. Martin Cizek's cross for the home side found an unmarked Libor Zurek who notched the winner. Zurek, apparently forgetting the still huge deficit and the imminent defeat that faced his side, ripped off his shirt in celebration only to be booked by the referee for his enthusiastic display.

But in the end, it was Bayer Leverkusen who earned the right to party. A loss on the night could not take the shine off an overall performance that saw the team return to the upper echelons of European cup competition.

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