Jonathan Tah scored in the 90th minute to send Bayer Leverkusen through to the German Cup semi-finals with a 3-2 win at home over Stuttgart on Tuesday.
League leaders Leverkusen twice came from behind against an impressive Stuttgart side, securing victory in the dying moments for the third time in their past five matches.
With the match headed for extra time, midfielder Florian Wirtz curled in a superb cross for Tah to head home and clinch a memorable victory.
Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso toasted the victory, telling reporters “sometimes we win with control, structure and stability, but today we won with heart, soul — and that is also very important.”
“To score like that gives us lots of energy and positive hope for what’s to come,” goalscorer Tah told Germany’s ARD network.
The win will be a crucial confidence boost for Leverkusen ahead of Saturday’s home date with Bayern Munich, who sit two points behind them in the league.
Tah however sought to quash trophy talk, saying “what makes us strong is that we’re focusing on the here and now and on the tasks we have at hand, not what could happen at the end of the season.”
Stuttgart goalscorer Waldemar Anton said “to lose like that hurts enormously, we had the game in our grasp.”
With Leverkusen and Stuttgart two of only three quarter finalists from the top division, this season’s German Cup represented a real chance of silverware, particularly with Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and holders RB Leipzig already eliminated.
Stuttgart, who sit third in the table this campaign having needed to win a two-legged playoff to stay in the Bundesliga last season, opened with a flurry.
Anton shrugged off centre-back Edmond Tapsoba to head in from a corner and give the visitors a deserved lead after just 11 minutes.
Unflappable for much of the season, the early goal took the steam out of Alonso’s side, who struggled to handle Stuttgart’s intense pressing.
Leverkusen finally broke through early in the second-half with a stunning long-range shot from Germany midfielder Robert Andrich.
Stuttgart scored next to cut the home side’s momentum, again pressing Leverkusen into an error when trying to play out from the back, before Chris Fuehrich curled the ball home.
Alonso sensed a first loss in 30 matches this season and brought on Amine Adli, fresh from Africa Cup of Nations duty for Morocco. The forward repayed his coach’s faith, collecting a Wirtz assist and scoring three minutes after coming off the bench.
With a punishing 30 minutes of extra time on the horizon, Wirtz found Tah unmarked in front of goal, keeping the unbeaten side’s dream of a treble alive.
Tah was full of praise for his manager after the match, saying “he always finds the right words, the right moments to be sensitive to what we’re doing well and what we aren’t.”
On Wednesday, three-time Cup winners Borussia Moenchengladbach face third division Saarbruecken away.
This season’s giantkillers Saarbruecken have already claimed the scalps of Bayern and Eintracht Frankfurt.
The winners will join Leverkusen along with second division sides Fortuna Dusseldorf and Kaiserslautern in the last four.