A Perpetual Bridesmaid Gets the Crown, and Germany (Mostly) Likes the Look

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Executives at Bayer Leverkusen, the longstanding but habitually middleweight German soccer team, have been fielding the messages since at least February. Some were delivered in person, a quiet blessing after yet another victory. Others came via WhatsApp, unsolicited and unexpected notes from peers and acquaintances and, to their occasional surprise, traditional foes.

Soccer, after all, is fiercely tribal. Rivals do not easily offer one another encouragement or congratulations. But as the German league season gathered pace, plenty wanted to laud Leverkusen’s impending achievement: It was, with each victory, getting closer and closer to being crowned national champion for the first time.

And, that meant — just as importantly — that Bayern Munich was not.

Leverkusen will, this weekend, surge over the line and end a run of Bayern championships that stretches back more than a decade. At least it should: All Leverkusen requires to seal the title is a single victory, which could come as soon as its game against Werder Bremen on Sunday, or for Bayern to lose.

The triumph has been a long time coming, in one sense; the club was founded 120 years ago, in 1904, before the city of Leverkusen technically existed. But in another sense it has arrived more swiftly than anyone anticipated.

Xabi Alonso, coach of the soccer club Bayer Leverkusen, which could clinch the Bundesliga title with a win on Sunday or a loss by its rival Bayern Munich on Saturday.Credit…Tom Weller/DPA, via Associated Press

Six months ago, the team’s charismatic coach, Xabi Alonso, 42, said he would countenance the idea that his side might win the championship only if it was still in contention in April. As it is, it might claim the title so early that it cannot celebrate it properly: The season is still in full swing, and Leverkusen has at least two more trophies to chase.

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