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Lethal finishing wins the day in Leverkusen

What an evening. At a cool and rainy BayArena in Leverkusen, Villarreal CF took a giant step toward the Europa League quarterfinals, with a Nilmar goal deep in injury time providing a 2-3 victory.

Garrido opted for a very tactical lineup, with Catalá replacing the suspended Capdevila, Wakaso Mubarak and Marchena in midfield with Borja and Bruno, and Ruben partnering Rossi up front. This seemed to succeed for a while, although as the first half wore on, the Yellow Submarine had less time on the ball, and Leverkusen's speed and strength began to put Villarreal to the test. Vidal and Renato Augusto were especially dangerous, but our back four stood firm, and Derdiyok and Sam were less effective than expected.

When Leverkusen did score, it was from an unlikely source. Rossi lost the ball in midfield, and Czech defender Michal Kadlec drilled a low shot past Diego López's outstretched left hand and inside the post. But less than ten minutes later, Wakaso recovered the ball and passed to Marchena, who put Rossi one-on-one with Adler. Rossi looked for all the world as if he was going to shoot with his right foot, but at the last minute, he buried a left-footed shot into the far corner. At halftime, Villarreal could consider itself lucky to be even, and it was pretty clear that Garrido would make some changes.

HT: 1-1

The disappointing Derdiyok came off at halftime, replaced by the giant German striker Kießling. Though Vidal and company controlled possession, the Villarreal defense was happy to concede corners and trap Kießling offside at every opportunity. However, Adler had little to do in the Bayer goal. Ruben essentially was anonymous, Rossi saw two or three defenders every time he had possession, and though Borja provided some excellent passes from midfield, he needed more attacking help than Wakaso and Marchena.

Santi Cazorla was first off the bench, replacing Wakaso on 61 minutes, and Nilmar came on for the exhausted Rossi shortly afterward. And practically from his first touch, the Brazilian striker found the net, controlling the ball beautifully, splitting the defense, and putting the ball past Adler. But while Garrido still was celebrating on the bench, Leverkusen scored from the restart.

Mario Gaspar was at fault, as he seemed confused by the bounce of the ball and failed to clear it, allowing Gonzalo Castro to slam home a shot that eluded two defenders and Diego López's desperate dive. 2-2, and at that point it seemed that Villarreal was reeling, as Leverkusen threatened and the Submarine defense tried to clear its lines without much success. In the last ten minutes of regular time, Leverkusen poured forward, while Villarreal tried to counter without effect. Santi Cazorla nearly put in Borja one-on-one, and Joan Oriol-- who had come on for Ruben-- made a wonderful run down the left flank and turned a defender nicely to create space for a cross, but there was no one in the box.

Four minutes of injury time, and Villarreal fans watched the time pass hoping to hang on to a draw. And then lightning struck: the Villarreal defense broke up a Bayer attack, Santi gathered the ball and made a clinical pass to Nilmar, and the Brazilian did the rest, outrunning a Bayer defender and scoring a beautiful goal between Adler's legs. There barely was time for the restart: the whistle blew, and Villareal had a priceless away win.

FT: 2-3

The statistics bear out the nature of the game. Bayer controlled possession (55%-45%), and Villarreal committed more fouls (8-7) and conceded more corners (11-4). Villarreal only had 4 shots in the entire match, all on goal, and scored on 3 (Wakaso was denied early on from long range); Leverkusen had 14 shots, 9 on target. It was a triumph of quick cut-and-thrust and lethal finishing.

Villarreal goes into the second leg knowing that a draw, or even a 1-2 defeat, will be enough to advance. Leverkusen will be without one of its sparkplugs, the Chilean midfielder Vidal, who will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation, and the German side must be disheartened with the outcome of the first leg.

Garrido got his tactics right and has to be pleased with the efforts of Wakaso and Marchena in midfield and Catalá at left back. Cani did not feature, Santi and Nilmar were on the pitch for less than 30 minutes, and Rossi only played an hour. Well done, boys; now let's take apart Sporting on Sunday. Endavant Villarreal!