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BERLIN: Bayer Leverkusen’s Spanish head coach Xabi Alonso and his players celebrate with the trophy after the German Cup (DFB-Pokal) final football match between 1 FC Kaiserslautern and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. – AFP
BERLIN: Bayer Leverkusen’s Spanish head coach Xabi Alonso and his players celebrate with the trophy after the German Cup (DFB-Pokal) final football match between 1 FC Kaiserslautern and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. – AFP

Leverkusen lift German Cup to claim first double

BERLIN: Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso said he was ready for a big night after his club sealed the double on Saturday, telling reporters: “I’m not working tomorrow.” Asked if he would celebrate with the players in the German capital, before the club returns to Leverkusen for a parade on Sunday, Alonso replied “of course”. “We need to enjoy it. We need to release the tension from the whole season. “I’m not working tomorrow.”

Leverkusen won the Bundesliga unbeaten - the club’s first league title - and lifted the German Cup on Saturday after Granit Xhaka scored the only goal in a 1-0 win against Kaiserslautern. Alonso’s first full season managing at the top level finished with a Bundesliga and German Cup double, a Europa League final and a stunning record of just one loss in 53 games.

Leverkusen’s only loss came in Wednesday’s Europa League final against Serie A side Atalanta, but Alonso’s charges rebounded in dogged fashion. “I need a bit more time to grasp it. It was a dream season. To be able to celebrate here is incredible - we need to enjoy it,” Alonso told Germany’s ARD network.

The coach, who rejected reported interest from Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to stay at Leverkusen this season, was serenaded with chants of “Xabi Alonso” by delirious fans whose club had only won two trophies before this season.

“Of course I’m happy but I’m especially proud of the players. The double is totally deserved,” said the Spaniard. The victory tested Alonso as he rarely has been this season, with Leverkusen reduced to 10 men late in the first half after centre-back Odilon Kossounou’s second yellow.

Pictured cradling his head in his hands on the bench moments after, the 42-year-old took off striker Patrik Schick and winger Jonas Hofmann while his team sat deeper and attacked on the counter. Despite their one-man advantage, Kaiserslautern were kept in check by the German champions, with few clear-cut chances in the second half.

“We quickly analyzed who we can change,” said Alonso. “We played well and created some good chances, but what’s most important was the belief of the team. “They were ready to fight with 10 men and get it done.”

Leverkusen join Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen, Cologne and Schalke as the only clubs to have won the German domestic double. Alonso, a two-time Champions League winner as a player, will return to the top European competition with Leverkusen next season, when the final is to take place at Munich’s Allianz Arena. — AFP

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