It was all looking so good at the half....(Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
It was all going SO WELL. In the first half Villarreal did essentially everything they needed to do, defending corners well, pressing enough in midfield to break up Porto's attacks, and creating chances of their own. And when Nilmar's cross was met by Cani to give Villarreal a deserved 1-0 halftime lead, things were looking good.
Villarreal went with a strong, attacking lineup in this game. Despite some question as to his fitness, Borja Valero started in midfield, and Cani, Santi, Nilmar, and Rossi were there too, along with Bruno. The back four was Catala, Marchena, Musacchio, and Mario, and Diego Lopez. And in the first half they all played well. Nilmar could've given the Submarine a lead in the 7th minute when he broke down the right, but Helton parried his near-post shot away.
Porto began with a bang, Falcao forcing an excellent save by Diego Lopez within fifteen seconds of the start, but for most of the first half seemed ill at ease. Their high back line let Nilmar and Rossi exploit the space behind it, and when Porto caame forward they were easily repulsed by the defense. Hulk was booked for diving, and Fernando in particular shot at goal whenever he saw it, and produced nothing of consequence. It wasn't until the half-hour mark that Hulk showed what he was capable of, collecting a ball at the top of the area after a Villarreal giveaway and sending a shot just wide of the post with Lopez beaten.
Villarreal should've already had a goal or two as halftime neared, but Rossi couldn't get the ball to bounce for him and Nilmar could not finish an excellent cross with a defender right on him. But on the stroke of halftime they did get the goal they deserved, with Borja Valero winning the ball in midfield, finding Nilmar in acres of space down the right, and he crossed for Cani to head home. A wonder goal. Not much time to celebrate, though, because Porto nearly scored from the restart, Diego Lopez having to turn a deflected shot JUST wide.
HT Porto 0-1 Villarreal
In the first half, Villarreal had worked hard to control Porto. It seemed at times the Porto players were beginning to doubt themselves as passes went awry and free kicks were sent high into the stands. I think we all knew Porto would offer more than that, but how much more? Unfortunately, we were soon to find out.
The only negative of the first half, from Villarreal's viewpoint, was their failure to convert chances against a fairly ordinary Porto defense. And three minutes into the second half this happened again. Santi Cazorla found himself in acres of space with only Helton to beat, but instead of shooting passed the ball toward Nilmar, coming down the middle, but it was a poor pass and easily cleared.
I love you, Santi, but SHOOT when you're that open!!! And this was made worse because from that missed opportunity Porto came down, Falcao was put through, and Diego Lopez dived to block his shot and never got the ball, only Falcao's legs. He duly converted the resulting penalty and it was 1-1. Though Nilmar had a brief look at goal shortly afterward, Porto turned up the pressure, and Villarreal were hanging on.
In the first half Villarreal's midfield was working hard to win the ball and keep Porto at bay. They were impressive on the ball, didn't get caught in possession, and always looked comfortable going forward. Now none of that was happening, and a second goal for Porto seemed inevitable. It arrived on 62 minutes, when Guarin cut inside what was becoming a visibly tiring defense, Lopez parried his near-post shot (against the post, I think) but Guarin was first to the bouncing ball and smashed it home.
It was clear that Villarreal were just hanging on. Porto's fresher legs and raucous home support were telling, and Garrido tried to stem the tide by bringing on Mubarak for Borja. Made sense given his muscle soreness and his yellow card. But Porto were rampant now, and a third goal duly arrived with Hulk running past Musacchio (who I guess was hoping to let him shoot at Lopez, and was badly beaten on this play) and crossing the ball back for Falcao to score his second goal of the night.
Worse was to come. Four minutes later Porto won a corner kick, and the Villarreal defense simply watched as Falcao powered the ball into the goal with a diving header. Ruben and Matilla had come on for Cani and Nilmar at some point, but it didn't matter. Villarreal looked both physically exhausted and mentally shattered.
I suppose I should get worked up about the fact that the Dutch referee seemed to have forgotten how to call fouls in the second half, but frankly a lot of it was Villarreal was just getting muscled off the ball as we were afraid we would be. The only real talking point of note was in the 83rd minute when Mubarak and Rossi ended up tussling with goalkeeper Helton for the ball outside the Porto penalty area. Helton certainly used his hand to stop the ball; he was duly given a yellow by the referee. A red would've given us a lifeline there, but would have been harsh in my view.
At 4-1 Villarreal fans had to hope the Submarine could steal a goal from somewhere that would give hope. But it wasn't going to happen--Villarreal couldn't find a way through and, as if it couldn't get any worse, on the 90 minutes Falcao scored yet again, this time with a beautifully powered header from a corner kick taken deep across the area. An incredible goal, and his fourth of the night.
FT Porto 5-1 Villarreal
A wounded dragon is a dangerous dragon. In the first half Villarreal made their experience count; in the second half Porto turned their game up a notch and took advantage of their freshness and overpowering style to sweep aside the Submarine.
Sadly, the return leg at El Madrigal is likely to be something of a damp squib. The chances of winning 4-0 are very slim, to say the least, and I expect Coach Garrido may focus more on the Sunday game in Mallorca. I hope Villarreal fans come to support the Submarine next Thursday even as the Twente fans did--honor the job the team has done to get to this point. It's been a great run.
Benfica defeated Braga 2-1 in the other semifinal,so that one is still up in the air. Whichever team wins there, Porto should take them apart in the final. We wanted to know how good Porto was. We found out. Pretty damned good!!.