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


LEVERKUSEN, Germany — It’s “Neverkusen” no more.

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 after stretching its German record unbeaten run to 43 games across all competitions this season.

Florian Wirtz scored a hat trick as 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.

Alonso, who took over as coach when Leverkusen was in the relegation zone in October 2022, reflected on ending Bayern’s dominance.

“Perhaps it’s healthy for the Bundesliga, also for German , for another team to win,” said Alonso, who won three Bundesliga titles with Bayern as a player from 2015-17.

“It’s a great joy and we have to enjoy it. We need a bit more time to realize what we’ve achieved. But it’s a super moment and yes, we’ll see what happens next,” Alonso said, referring to the other trophies that his team can win this season. “But now is the time to celebrate.”

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.

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



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