FC Zurich 3-2 Bayer Leverkusen: Germans stunned in Zurich
Marchesano celebrates the opening goal of a frenetic match (Photo credit: Sportschau.de)

FC Zurich secured their first competitive victory over a German side in European competition for 37 years as Bayer Leverkusen were beaten 3-2 at the Letzigrund in the UEFA Europa League.

An exciting, back and forth battle in Zurich that really could've gone either way fell in favour of the Swiss side after a decisive strike from Stephan Odey ten minutes from time.

Zurich made it three wins from three in Group A and are in pole position to qualify for the next round.

Story of the match

It was a breathless match at the Letzigrund but the first twenty minutes were a drab affair and no indication of the entertainment which would follow in the next seventy.

Zurich were the more encouraging team in the first half, poking and prodding at a sluggish Leverkusen looking to create openings to hurt the Bundesliga side.

Stephan Odey was the first to really test Lukas Hradecky in the opposition goal but the keeper made sure to stay big and block the shot from the Nigerian. 

More chances fell to Zurich as the half progressed with Benjamin Kololli denied by the tight angle upon which he had to take his shot while Odey was involved again just a few minutes later as he hit the post after a deflection allowed him a prime opportunity to open the scoring.

With the half drawing to a close, it was some brilliant play from 20-year-old Kevin Ruegg, dribbling into the box and playing an inch-perfect pass for Antonio Marchesano to find an opening goal which sent Zurich into a frenzy at the break.

The game really came to life in the second though as a quick-fire double just after the break from Karim Bellarabi turned the game on its head. Some lovely play from Leverkusen and two quality, rasping finishes from the German international.

Zurich were unperturbed though and came back on the hour when Toni Domgjoni found the equalizer with his deflected shot beating Hradecky before Odey would find the winner with Pa Modou Jagne providing the assist this time and the striker tapping-in to make it 3-2.

The final ten minutes demonstrated the discipline instilled in this FCZ side. Hekuran Kryeziu with a standout moment defensively to deny in-form Kai Havertz with a terrific tackle which left the defender with a bloody knee for his efforts.

Controversy was still to come as Leverkusen, in the final minute, were denied a goal after the referee whistled for a foul from Lars Bender that seemed incredibly harsh but the Swiss hosts were more than happy to be let off the hook and take three crucial points.

Takeaways from the match

Zurich can compete at this level

FC Zurich probably feared the worst when drawn into Group A of the UEFA Europa League alongside Leverkusen, Ludogorets and AEK Larnaca. It is an incredibly tough group and the general consensus was that the Swiss Cup winners were probably only looking at third place at best.

Instead, they have ripped up the script with an away win in Cyprus and home wins over Ludogorets and Leverkusen to leave themselves in a strong position at the top of the group and eight points clear in the qualification spots.

FCZ are a decent side at best but they are a group and collectively give everything for the cause. They are disciplined and never give up despite the quick setback that turned this game on its head early in the second half. 

Tonight's performance and the two previous have shown that FCZ are more than capable and while the last 32 would be an over-achievement in itself, it is fair to say that Zurich will not be disgraced at this level and will give a fair game, especially at home, to anyone they cross paths with in this competition.

Messy Leverkusen

Messy is probably the best word to describe the Bundesliga side. They were lacklustre in the first half and were deservedly a goal down at the break. They had done nothing to suggest their erratic form as of late would improve.

In the second half, it was like a switch as the Germans came out like a totally different side. Ballarabi and Havertz showed their quality and attacking wise, Leverkusen had Zurich on the ropes at this stage of the game, but then they crumbled. It was almost like they lacked the belief and their leaky defence was on show once again to throw away the lead and the game.

It has to be a real worry for their fans. They have so much attacking talent and speed, with dangerous players that can hurt opponents much stronger than Zurich but sloppy goals continue to cost them.

This was the seventh goal they've conceded in just three European games and that is something that will need to improve if they have realistic ambitions of going deep into this tournament.

So close yet so VAR

Despite struggling in the second half, Leverkusen almost snatched a draw at the death with the twins, Lars and Sven Bender combining to seemingly find the third goal in the 94th minute. Instead, the Azerbaijani referee, Oliyar Agayev ruled the goal out, ruling that Lars fouled Alain Nef in the box by backing into the defender.

Leverkusen were incensed by the decision and even Zurich manager Ludovic Magnin, speaking in the post-match conference, agreed: "The last goal that Leverkusen scored was a clear goal, in my opinion. We need VAR everywhere."

VAR will not be introduced into Europe's premier competitions until next season but it is clear that the system is needed now. The difference between zero points and one this evening and perhaps in the end, qualification or not. 

Stand out players

It was a night that more than a few Zurich players stood out. Pa Modou, for example, was a driving force with his brute strength and he provided the assist for the winner while Odey, who scored the winner, was a constant menace throughout for the home side.

Ruegg captained the side and the 20-year-old was the real highlight. His drive and determination created the opening goal and the local boy became a man on the European stage tonight and looks set to have a bright future.

Kai Havertz was a live wire and provided two assists for Ballarabi who was in clinical form with his two finishes. Zurich couldn't deal with either play at times but both tailed off towards the end of the match.

Collectively, Zurich deserve all the plaudits for a team performance that has left the city purring.