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Villarreal disposes of Leverkusen, reaches Europa 1/4 finals

Villarreal disposed of Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 tonight at El Madrigal behind goals from Santi Cazorla and Giuseppe Rossi. The Yellow Submarine won the tie 5-3 on aggregate and advances to the quarterfinals of the Europa League, the only Spanish club left in the competition.

Manager Juan Carlos Garrido went with almost the same starting lineup as in the first leg, but for Santi Cazorla in place of Wakaso. The German side put both Kießling and Derdiyok in the lineup, with Sidney Sam dropping to the bench, and the ageless Sami Hyppia returned in defense, in place of the suspended Vidal.

Villarreal appeared content to sit back in defense, break up Leverkusen attacks, and launch counterattacks of their own. Frankly, the Submarine should have been a goal up in the 12th minute, when Rossi shrugged off Reinartz and slipped the ball to Borja Valero, who had only the keeper to beat. But for some reason, the referee didn't play the advantage, and Villarreal was awarded a free kick, which led to nothing. Rossi and Ruben were doing a good job of pressing Bayer in their half, and Rossi could have had a goal when he stole the ball and slipped a low shot past Adler, but it trickled just wide of the post.

For all of Leverkusen's posession, it was Villarreal which looked the more likely to score-- Adler had to be alert in the 25th minute to block a pass from Rossi to Santi, and eight minutes later, Adler beat Rossi to another through ball inside the area. But a minute later, the goal came, and it was a beauty-- Santi smashing the ball home with his right foot after exchanging passes with Rossi. Leverkusen's best chance of the half followed, as Renato Augusto made a nice move at the top of the box to find space for a shot, but his attempt was saved easily by Diego López. Even before halftime, Jupp Heynckes had brought on Sam for Gonzalo Castro to try and provide a spark, but Villarreal went into the break up 1-0 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate.

HT: 1-0

For the first 10 minutes of the second half, Villarreal was rampant, displaying excellent passing time after time in midfield. Heynckes made a second change, bringing on Michael Ballack for Kießling, who had done nothing in attack to that point. This seemed to spark Die Werkself, as first Augusto found space and produced a fine save from López, then a series of corners led to some half-chances in the Villarreal box, albeit without success. Just before this, Borja Valero hit a perfect cross-field pass to Rossi, but he was called offside. In the 60th minute, though, Santi Cazorla put Rossi through with only Adler to beat, and El Madrigal erupted as the Bambino slammed a right-footed shot home.

At this point, Leverkusen needed three goals to force extra time and four to win, and the crowd was doing the Mexican wave. Rossi and Borja Valero soon came off, with Nilmar and Capdevila replacing them, and later Cani came on for Santi, all with an eye toward Sunday's important match. Until this point, the Submarine defense had been able to deal with everything Leverkusen had tried, but the last ten minutes of the match belonged to the visitors.

When Gonzalo deflected a Reinartz cross into his own net, Leverkusen had hope for a second goal, if not a third. Cani nearly had a third goal for Villarreal, eliciting a fingertip save from Adler, while Ballack, Castro, and Derdiyok all had Bayer chances near the end, but couldn't put them on target. As in the first game, Bayer Leverkusen outshot Villarreal, this time 14-5, but only 2 efforts were on target. And while Villarreal had only 5 shots, Adler had to make four or five interceptions or blocks of passes to prevent certain goal-scoring opportunities.

FT: 2-1

Derdiyok had a much better game this time around, and Renato Augusto again was impressive. For Villarreal, Catalá had perhaps his finest game; he was really comfortable both in breaking up attacks and on the ball, finding our midfielders with accurate passes. The midfield, until both Santi and Borja came out, was excellent. Bruno and Marchena played well defensively (though how Marchena avoided a yellow card in this match, only he knows), Borja was excellent, and Santi played perhaps his best game of the season. Ruben didn't do much in attack (though he had one cheeky backheel attempt that was saved), but he pressed as always, and Rossi had a fine game, unlucky not to have two goals and perhaps two assists. Nilmar didn't really do much today, with only one shot on goal. And Diego López was excellent-- a pity that he did not get the shutout that his efforts deserved.

Villarreal was the more stylish and effective team over the two legs, and the club deservedly takes its place in tomorrow's final draw. Endavant Villarreal!!