Going into the second leg of our UEFA Cup last sixteen tie against AS Roma, we led 2-0 on goals from Sonny Anderson and Jose Mari in the first leg. El Madrigal had proven itself a fortress yet again, and an away goal in Rome at the Stadio Olimpico would almost surely be enough to see us through to the quarterfinals. Where our home stadium was filled to capacity and provided plenty of atmosphere, I Giallorossi barely even half filled their legendary stadium for this match. Nevertheless, goals from Emerson and Cassano left us looking at extra time on the road after 50’ played.
The Villarreal teamsheet that night contained many names the fans will still remember. A 21 year old Pepe Reina in goal (can you believe he’s still playing?) was protected by a back four of Belletti, Coloccini, Quique Alvarez, and Arruabuenna. Sebastian Battaglia, Marti, Roger Garcia (now an assistant at Celta) and the legendary Riquelme manned the midfield. The forwards were our two goalscorers from the first leg, Anderson and Mari. Francesco Totti was the name on the Roma teamsheet everyone will know.
Even after going down 2-0, Villarreal really did not offer much in the way of counterpunch in this one. We were pressed back deep in our own half. in fact, Totti nearly grabbed the goal the Romans needed. Fortunately, we were deadly on the counter, and a cross in to Anderson was volleyed home. 2-1 on the night, but we would hold on to see out the tie 3-2.
We handled Glasgow Celtic fairly comfortably in the quarters and I’m just not going to talk about the semi-final with Valencia, but the season represented an era of Villarreal history we’d all like to get back to. Europe was an expectation, and away days to famous stadiums in Rome, Glasgow, and Istanbul were the norm. It seems so odd that just a few weeks ago we were debating whether Villarreal should still have that expectation, and now all of us would take any Villarreal match in any stadium and the normalcy and relative global health that would represent.
2003-2004 represented Sonny Anderson’s only full season for Villarreal. He had 12 league goals in 2100 minutes, most notably against Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Valencia. He was 33 years old when he arrived at our club, having arrived as a free agent from Lyon, where he had scored 71 goals in 110 matches. Prior to that, the Brazilian had won a double with Barcelona.
One of the fascinating things about football, to me, is how players can be part of a singular moment in a club’s history, even if they never spent a particularly long time in that city. Reading about this match this morning has made me long for European nights, and the great drama of away goals and knockout football. Hopefully, we’ll see all of that again very soon.