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Villarreal sweeps into Europa League semifinals

winners tonight
winners tonight

Villarreal progressed to the semifinals of a major European competition for the third time in its history, defeating FC Twente 3-1 this evening to win the tie 8-2 on aggregate.

As was suggested in our preview, manager Juan Carlos Garrido did indeed move Carlos Marchena back to the center of defense and insert Wakaso Mubarak into midfield, but he surprised everyone by starting Javier Matilla in midfield as well. Clearly the focus was on defending the 5-1 advantage from the first leg, and in particular starving the giant Janko of aerial service.

The first 20 minutes were very cagey, with Villarreal succeeding in pressing enough in midfield to break up Twente's rhythm, and the back four moved up well to put Janko offside when a high ball was played to him. Bajrami had a shot from outside the box comfortably parried by Lopez, while at the other end, Villarreal had no shots on goal to show for its efforts.

After that, the game began to open up a bit, and it was Bryan Ruiz who set up a fine goal by Bajrami in the 32nd minute, with a fine back-heeled assist from Janssen as well. At that point, it was imperative for Villarreal to get to the break only a goal down, but Villarreal was allowing Twente too much of the ball in midfield, and Bajrami in particular was creating all sorts of problems for Mario Gaspar down the wing. Submarine supporters everywhere breathed a huge sigh of relief when Bajrami's low crossing pass sliced just beyond both Ruiz and Janko. That was close.

Villarreal had done essentially everything it needed to in the first half. I remember one header from Janko way over the bar under good presure from Jose Manuel Catala, one free kick conceded in a dangerous position (a ludicrous non-foul and subsequent yellow card to Catalá on Janko), and only two real opportunities for the Tukkers. Even so, Ruiz and Bajrami were looking awfully dangerous.

HT: 1-0

Both teams had complained to the Scottish refereeing crew at the end of the first half. The Villarreal players, especially Bruno Soriano and Borja Valero, felt they were being fouled without anything being given in midfield, and Twente wasn't happy with the linesman, as they had been whistled for a number of offsides.

As the second half kicked off, Villarreal looked much better, creating their first real chance of the night when Giuseppe Rossi forced the Twente keeper into a save. And in the 59th minute came the key play of the game. Wakaso, whose pace had troubled the Tukkers all evening, beat Tiendalli to a ball inside the area, and the defender tripped Wakaso, leading not only to a penalty but also the dismissal of Tiendalli as the last man. Rossi calmly slotted home, the tie was now 6-2 to Villarreal on aggregate, and that was essentially that.

With Twente down to 10 men and facing an impossible task, manager Michel Preud'homme began to turn his thoughts toward the league, removing Brama, Bryan Ruiz and Janko in the next 20 minutes. Villarreal gave an early rest to Valero, Rossi, and Marchena ahead of Monday evening's home tie against Zaragoza. The big news was the appearance of Hernan Perez for the first time with the A team, and he did not disappoint. Granted, Twente was a man down, but Pérez's pace created them severe problems, and he nearly scored, firing a shot just past the top corner. Then with 6 minutes remaining, he burst into the area again and turned Buysse, who brought him down for another penalty, which Ruben converted.

And in practically the last minute of regulation, Ruben Cani scored a golazo from the top of the box to make it 1-3 on the night and 8-2 on aggregate. That's how it ended, though Twente came close toward the end. Their supporters cheered them off the pitch, sang and held their scarves high--truly outstanding fans.

FT: 1-3

Villarreal accomplished everything they wanted--they rested a number of key players, no one was injured, and they progress on to the semifinals. And they got excellent games from Wakaso and Matilla, two players who have hardly featured. And Pérez gave us a lot to look forward to next season.

In fact, Villarreal's XI at the end of the match was: Diego Lopez; Catalá, Mateo Musacchio, Mario, Joan Oriol; Matilla, Wakaso, Bruno, Cani; Pérez and Ruben. All but López and Cani played for Villarreal B at some point (though it would be a stretch to call Wakaso a canterano, since he was almost immediately promoted to the A team!).

Now Villarreal turns its attention to La Liga again--big matches coming up against Zaragoza and Sevilla--before traveling to northern Portugal to play Porto in two weeks' time. A fine night, and all still to play for. Endavant Villarreal!!