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Super-sub Nilmar leaves Leverkusen with mountain to climb

Bayer Leverkusen's bid to reach the Europa League quarterfinals has taken a major blow, as the Germans lost 3-2 to visitors Villareal. Two goals from Brazilian Nilmar mean Bayer need a brilliant return result in Spain.

Villareal's Brazilian Nilmar celebrates a goal

Nilmar buried two goals, and possibly Leverkusen

Bayer Leverkusen dominated much of Thursday's Europa League fixture, but eventually lost 3-2 against Villareal in their own backyard.

Brazilian substitute Nilmar scored twice for Villareal in less than half an hour on the pitch, including his last-gasp winner on the counter attack deep into injury time.

"My team delivered a top-class performance, but Villareal were more clinical," coach Jupp Heynckes, by no means prone to lavishing undeserved praise on his Leverkusen players, said after the match. "We're strong away from home, though, so why shouldn't we score two goals in Villareal?"

Leverkusen, currently second in the Bundesliga table, took a deserved lead when fullback Michal Kadlec blasted into the bottom corner from long range in the 33rd minute. But Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi equalized for Villareal 12 minutes later, capitalizing on a temporary lapse in concentration from Bayer's back line.

Brazilian international Nilmar gave Villareal the lead again, virtually with his first touch, on 70 minutes. Then Gonzalo Castro quickly leveled the score. Nilmar and Villareal, however, had the last laugh.

Leverkusen now need an impressive victory in Spain next week to progress from the Europa League round of 16, but can at least take heart from their performance in the first leg, if not the final score.

"I'm really angry," German international striker Stefan Kiessling said. "They only had three chances, but they scored three goals - you can't let that happen. Mentally, we weren't strong enough."

Striker Stefan Kiessling sits with his head in his hands moments after Villareal's last-minute winning goal.

Chin up, Stefan! Leverkusen will need you in scoring form in the return fixture.

There's no let-up for the German side in the meantime; Leverkusen face a tough Bundesliga fixture away to fellow European aspirants Mainz on Sunday.

Favorites falter

All 16 Europa League hopefuls were in action on Thursday, and England's fancied contenders to win it all suffered major first-leg setbacks.

Manchester City's stellar lineup of high-profile, high-priced internationals - including the Bundesliga's most expensive player, Edin Dzeko - lost 2-0 in Ukraine against Dynamo Kyiv, with veteran international Andriy Shevchenko opening the scoring for the hosts.

Leverkusen's Arturo Vidal of Chile (right), and Villarreal's Borja Valero challenge for the ball

Leverkusen and Villareal were just two of the 16 sides scrapping on Thursday

City's Premiership opponents Liverpool also lost on the road. An 18th-minute penalty from Brazilian Alan sealed the win for Portuguese side Sporting Braga.

"The way we started the game, the first 35 minutes, we were terrible," Liverpool manager Kenny Dalgleish said. "To the boys' credit, they picked themselves up a bit in the second half. I think at 1-0 you have got a chance."

It was a good night for the other Portuguese contenders: Porto beat CSKA Moscow 1-0 in Russia, and Benfica secured a 2-1 win against visitors Paris St. Germain.

FC Twente smashed Zenith St. Petersburg 3-0 in the Netherlands, while Ajax lost 1-0 to Spartak Moscow in the Amsterdam Arena. The other Dutch hopefuls, PSV Eindhoven, were also on home turf, but played out a goalless draw against Glasgow Rangers.

Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Holly Fox

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