Hofmann, Boniface shine as Leverkusen strike late to beat West Ham

Bayer Leverkusen’s German midfielder #10 Florian Wirtz (L) vies for the ball with West Ham United’s Brazilian midfielder #10 Lucas Paqueta (C) and West Ham United’s English midfielder #07 James Ward-Prowse during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg football match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and West Ham United FC in Leverkusen, western Germany on April 11, 2024. AFP

Jonas Hofmann and Victor Boniface scored after coming off the bench as Bayer Leverkusen beat West Ham 2-0 at home on Thursday in their Europa League quarter-final first leg.

Needing stoppage time winners from Patrick Schick to win both legs of their last 16 tie with Qarabag, Leverkusen were dominant but had failed to break through against the dogged visitors.

With 14 minutes remaining, coach Xabi Alonso brought on Hofmann and Boniface and the move did the trick, the Nigerian linking with the Germany winger for the opener in the 83rd minute.

Boniface then sealed the result in stoppage time, heading in a Hofmann cross for a 2-0 win.

The victory continues what could be a stunning week for Leverkusen, who are 16 points clear of Bayern Munich in Germany and can win their first Bundesliga title by beating Werder Bremen at home on Sunday.

“The fans singing gave me goosebumps,” Hofmann told German TV network RTL.

“It means everything to be able to hold up the shield at the end of the season. It will be a moment where maybe a few tears will fall. We might get overwhelmed, but you need to let your emotions flow.”

West Ham, who fought hard with little in the way of possession or field position, will need to become the first team to beat Alonso’s side this season to return to the semi-finals.

West Ham’s approach mirrored that of their last 16 visit to Freiburg, with David Moyes’ men sitting deep away in the hope of deciding things on their own turf, hopefully with injured talisman Jarrod Bowen returning to their ranks.

Schick had a chance to put the hosts in front early, backheeling a Florian Wirtz pass after seven minutes but Lukasz Fabianski was perfectly placed to save.

Fabianski needed to be a little more acrobatic to keep out Leverkusen’s next chance, the West Ham goalkeeper leaping to stop Amine Adli’s 11th minute effort.

The hosts’ dominance continued to go unrewarded in the second-half, Fabianski again leaping acrobatically to save an expertly placed Schick header with 20 minutes remaining.

Alonso would be forgiven for having flashbacks to the semi-finals of this competition last season, where Jose Mourinho’s Roma bundled Leverkusen out with a similar approach.

With the match heading towards a scoreless draw, Alonso made changes, bringing on Boniface and Hofmann.

Hofmann struck first from a Boniface cross before setting up the Nigerian’s stoppage time strike, sealing another late win for Alonso’s side.

In addition to overturning a two-goal deficit, West Ham will be short staffed in the return leg even if Bowen does return, with Emerson and Lucas Paqueta set to miss out having picked up yellow cards.

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