El Madrigal got back in the Europa League spirit tonight with a fine 4-0 win for Villarreal over Apollon Limassol, courtesy of two goals apiece from Gerard Moreno and Javier Espinosa--the first time Villarreal have had two players with more than one goal in a European match.
Apollon Limassol's game plan was as expected--sit back and concede possession but hope to hit Villarreal with quick counterattacks. Unfortunately for them, this plan pretty much blew up in the 9th minute, when a nice passing interchange involving Vietto and Cani put Gerard Moreno through and his tight-angle blast left keeper Bruno Vale beaten. It really should have been 2-0 shortly afterward, but the Northern Ireland referee waved off a second Gerard goal, believing he had controlled the ball with his hand in the buildup--it didn't look like it.
Villarreal lost another defender, Rukavina coming off after only 15 minutes with what looked like an ankle injury, replaced by Mario Gaspar. There were a couple of signs of danger from Apollon--Sangoy had a couple of shots that Juan Carlos stopped, and the rebounds were cleared away--but for the most part it was all Villarreal. But as halftime neared, for all our dominance all we had to show for it was one goal and a Luciano Vietto shot that had been nicely tipped off his post by the Appollon netminder. Then Vietto made a five-star pass to an onrushing Espinosa, who made it 2-0 in the 43rd minute, and Villarreal went in with a comfortable lead.
HT Villarreal 2-0 Apollon Limassol
The second half started slowly, partly because one of the Apollon substitutes (they wanted to make two changes) didn't have the right boots! Eventually this got sorted out. Espinosa notched his second goal seven minutes into this half following a long pass from Vietto, cutting just inside the box and firing a perfect shot across the keeper and high into the far corner.
3-0 now, and Villarreal were coasting. Jonathan dos Santos (who had been one of the stars of the first half) came off after an hour for Manu Trigueros, the Mexican having taken a knock earlier, and Manu really deserved a goal himself but thumped a header off a post with the keeper beaten. Gerard Moreno hit the crossbar with a header, Adrian Marin providing the excellent cross, but nine minutes from time Gerard got his second goal. It was set up by a Giovani dos Santos run (Gio had replaced Vietto with about 20 minutes to go)--the Mexican drew FIVE defenders to him, and slipped the ball to an unmarked Gerard who didn't miss.
FT Villarreal 4-0 Apollon Limassol
Overall, a dominant display from Villarreal. Everyone was thinking about Marcelino today, and he should be proud of the way his team played. Villarreal dedicated this victory to him, and players from both teams wore black armbands in memory of his father. Our thoughts are with you, G!!