Villarreal are in the Europa League semifinal draw for the first time in five years after defeating Sparta Prague 4-2 today in a rocking stadium in the Czech capital. There had been speculation before the match as to whether Marcelino would go for attack or defense--his intentions were pretty clear when he named Manu Trigueros to partner Bruno in the doble pivote, and it was Trigueros who created the first goal with a scandalous pass to Cedric Bakambu--a perfectly placed diagonal ball that Bakambu ran onto and hit a low shot to the keeper's left.
1-0, only five minutes gone, and Villarreal had chances to add to their lead but couldn't do much until the 43rd minute when a hopeful Denis Suarez cross was cleared by a Sparta player's foot to Samu Castillejo and he fired the ball home. And worse was to come for the home side, when Villarreal notched a third in injury time--officially a Lafata own goal, though at first it appeared Bruno Soriano headed the ball home off a Suarez corner.
HT Sparta Prague 0-3 Villarreal
A 3-0 Villarreal halftime lead was about as strange, given the overall play, as the 1-1 halftime score in El Madrigal, but if there was any doubt the match was over, it was ended four minutes after the break when Bakambu scored again, the Sparta defense just having no answer for his speed and movement.
To Sparta's credit, they could have given up at that point, but they didn't, and Villarreal certainly relaxed (Jaume Costa, Jonathan dos Santos, and Leo Baptistao all coming on by around the 65-minute mark). Dockal and Krejci notched fine goals to cut the margin to 4-2 with 20 minutes left. Villarreal got itself together and saw out the match comfortably enough.
FT Sparta Prague 2-4 Villarreal (2-6 agg.)
Villarreal go in to the semifinal draw with Liverpool (an incredible fightback against Dortmund), Shaktar Donetsk, and Sevilla, knowing they have to play better against whoever they are drawn against than they did today--or at least play a tighter game. Sparta outshot Villarreal 19-10, though to be fair once we had four goals we didn't exactly try to attack as much as we had before.
The crowd in Prague was amazing--some sort of tifo around minute 10, lots of banners, singing throughout, even when Sparta trailed, and lots of clapping for their players as the match moved into injury time. This really was a great moment for them, even in defeat. Their player Dockal was outstanding again, aged 27, he deserves to play in a bigger European league. Really liked watching him.
Now for the draw tomorrow morning! ENDAVANT!