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Bayer Leverkusen wins first Bundesliga title, ending Bayern Munich's 11-year reign

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LA Post: Bayer Leverkusen wins first Bundesliga title, ending Bayern Munich's 11-year reign
April 14, 2024
JAMES ELLINGWORTH - AP

LEVERKUSEN, Germany (AP) — It’s “Neverkusen” no longer.

Coached by Xabi Alonso, Bayer Leverkusen won the Bundesliga title for the first time Sunday to end Bayern Munich’s 11-year reign as champion.

In the end, it wasn't even close — Leverkusen leads second-place Bayern by 16 points.

Florian Wirtz scored a hat trick as Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen routed Werder Bremen 5-0 and the game ended with a pitch invasion Sunday to secure the club’s first-ever German league title with five games remaining.

“It’s indescribable ... I don’t think it’s possible, or I personally can’t even realize it yet,” Wirtz told broadcaster DAZN.

“I need a little more time in the locker room to really get my head around what we’ve achieved. But yeah, so far it’s just been nice to party outside with the fans and also have a bit of a party in the locker room.”

Fans had already stormed onto the field when Leverkusen scored its fourth goal with seven minutes to go, and the final minutes were played in thick red smoke from supporters’ pyrotechnics while players on Leverkusen’s bench clapped along to songs, danced and hugged one another.

The fifth goal in the 90th brought more fans onto the field — hundreds this time — and the referee ended the game amid confusion and jubilation. Thousands of supporters crowded the field waving flags, flares and cardboard copies of the Bundesliga trophy.

Leverkusen finally shed its reputation as perennial runner-up after five second-place finishes in the league and one in the Champions League.

Victor Boniface — starting a Bundesliga game for the first time since December because of injury — settled Leverkusen's nerves with the opening goal from the penalty spot before Granit Xhaka hit an audacious long-range shot to make it 2-0 with half an hour to go.

Bremen folded after that with substitute Wirtz scoring a goal very similar to Xhaka's, then another on the counter in the 83rd and a third to end the game, his first career hat trick.

Leverkusen is aiming for a historic treble of trophies. Alonso's team will play second-division Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final in Berlin on May 25 and has a 2-0 lead over West Ham after their Europa League quarterfinal first leg.

The title puts the spotlight firmly on an industrial city of just under 170,000, which has been overshadowed by larger, more famous neighbors.

“Not in Cologne and Duesseldorf, no, we’re at home here,” is the third line of the club song played just before kickoff. Soccer is how Leverkusen stands out.

The club started as a workers’ team for the Bayer pharmaceutical giant 120 years ago and is a rare exception in Germany, where most clubs are majority-controlled by members under the so-called 50+1 rule.

Twelfth-place Bremen was in difficulties even before kickoff as the club accused midfielder Naby Keita of walking out on the squad after he was disappointed not to be in the starting lineup. Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky dealt with the few chances Bremen created.

In the early game, Ritsu Doan’s first-half strike was enough for Freiburg to win 1-0 at last-place Darmstadt, which moved closer to automatic relegation.

Darmstadt, with 14 points, was 12 points from the relegation playoff spot with five matches to play. No team in the Bundesliga has ever overcome such a deficit at this stage of the season to survive.

___

AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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