Villarreal virtually qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a 2-1 win in Borisov before a small but passionate crowd of Dinamo Minsk supporters who made the two-hour trip to support their team. The first half was rather poor stuff with only a Bakambu soft header to trouble the Minsk keeper, while the home side were content to defend in ranks and wait for an opportunity to counter, with their Montenegrin international Beciraj always looking dangerous.
Villarreal didn't play with much pace or aggression, seeming to be content to work the ball around the box but not really creating much danger. The second half began in much the same way, even though Roberto Soldado replaced the ineffective Nahuel at the break. And though the Submarine controlled possession, even when players found space they couldn't seem to find the target. It seemed as though we wanted to pass the ball into the net.
And on 69 minutes the counterattack we feared happened--Beciraj split Jokic and Ruiz and crossed the ball--I'm not quite sure how Mario missed it, but maybe he overran the play--and substitute Maksim Vitus calmly put the ball into the open net, Barbosa having come out to try to play Beciraj. Vitus did a dance, of course, and Minsk celebrated their first goal, and first lead, in the Europa League this season.
However, the flip side of that first goal is they weren't used to playing from ahead either, and Villarreal received the first of two lucky breaks when just two minutes later Samu Garcia deked a defender just inside the box and was upended. It was as clear a penalty as you'll ever see, never mind that it was hardly a dangerous situation for the Minsk defense. And Roberto Soldado made them pay, converting the penalty.
Villarreal's second stroke of good luck came with four minutes left, when Jonathan dos Santos fed Soldado inside the box and his shot caromed off a diving Minsk defender and into the net. Villarreal didn't look comfortable playing with the lead either, but saw off the remaining time to post a 2-1 win.
Meanwhile, Rapid Wien won 2-1 on the road also (at Plzen) so have 12 points, Villarreal have 9. Minsk are eliminated now, and Plzen have 3 points but would need to win in Minsk, we would need to lose to Rapid Vienna at home, and then they would need to defeat Villarreal in the last match of the group. And even then, they have to overturn a six-goal difference. Possible, but if we can win at home against Vienna, a team we feel we should have beaten in the first group match, if we match their result in the final round we can finish first in the group.
Our ineffective play on the road (Levante, Las Palmas, today) is worrying ahead of a trip to the Camp Nou, but we can at least celebrate a win today.
Endavant Villarreal! Highlights here: