Is Villarreal in the UEFA Champions League group stage without Giuseppe Rossi? I think not.
For three halves, we huffed and puffed against Danish league runners-up Odense BK. But apart from Cristián Zapata gifting away a goal, we had little to show for our efforts.
HT: 0-0; 1-0 to Odense on aggregate.
Then Juan Carlos Garrido talked to the players at halftime. And we finally got a bit of luck. Zapata to Nilmar to Rossi, but the shot was initially parried by Odense goalkeeper Stefan Wessels. However, it trickled over the line, and we were finally on the scoresheet. Game on.
49': 1-0 to Villarreal; 1-1 on aggregate.
And we didn't let up. This time the oft-maligned Rubén Cani sent in a picture-perfect cross, and Rossi finished past a helpless Wessels. Estadio El Madrigal was alight, and the Italian striker had his double. Advantage Submarino.
65': 2-0 to Villarreal; 2-1 to Villarreal on aggregate.
Odense winger Bashkim Kadrii then nearly put the visitors in front on away goals. He followed this up by getting sent off for a second bookable offense. Borja Valero then joined him in the showers with an atrocious headbutt. The club plans to appeal his suspension, but Valero and Mateo Musacchio (for yellow card accumulation) will miss at least matchday 1. Poor decision-making.
After going narrowly wide from the edge of the area, our midfield enforcer again tried his luck in the 82nd minute. Wessels lost track of the ball at the wrong moment, and it skipped past him to put the tie out of reach. A great moment for Marchena, but Wessels deserved better as the best player of the two legs.
82': 3-0 to Villarreal; 3-1 to Villarreal on aggregate.
FT: 3-0; Villarreal advances 3-1 on aggregate.
Much more to come on Thursday on the Champions League group stage draw. We are in pot 2 and cannot face Spanish sides Barcelona and Real Madrid. So there is a 50% likelihood that we will draw a British head of state (Arsenal, Chelsea, or Manchester United). If not, we have to contend with Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, or Porto.
But there's no easy draw at this stage. We will have to survive and advance, just as we did against Odense. See you for the draw on Thursday at 12 noon Eastern Time.