One of the joys of progressing in the Europe League—never mind the prestige, never mind the money—is seeing your club’s representatives become part of an ever-shrinking number of people attending the official draw. The round of 32 always has tons of people and between the media correspondents and the team reps, the room at UEFA headquarters is full. Round of 16 has some breathing space, at least; and for the quarterfinals, it’s a chance to look around and see how few of you are left. Some history:
Villarreal have made it to the quarterfinals of the Europa League (and its predecessor, the UEFA Cup) four times previously.
2003-04 we faced Glasgow Celtic in the quarterfinals, and won 3-1 on aggregate (this tie brought about the creation of the Celtic Submari penya and the friendship between the two clubs, among other things).
That run began with a tie against Brescia in the third round of the Intertoto Cup (if you aren’t old enough to remember this competition and how it started, basically it began so there would be football matches to bet on via the football pools during the summer—no, I’m not kidding). And if you want to know how long Daniele Bonera has been playing, he LEFT Brescia the summer before we played them, after playing three years for their first team !!!
2004-05 we lost in the quarters to AZ, 3-2 (1-1 away draw, lost 1-2 at home).
We began in the second round of the Intertoto Cup: we defeated Odense, Spartak Moscow, Odense, and Atltico Madrid in the final, just to get into the first round (what we would now call the preliiminary round) of the UEFA Cup. There we defeated Hammarby, and in a group stage where you played each of four opponents once, we drew with Lazio and Partizan and defeated Egeleo of Greece and Middlesborough to advance to the knockout rounds. Quite a progression.
2010-11 we defeated Twente, 8-2 on aggregate.
This was the year we only got in because Mallorca were pitched out for financial irregularities, we defeated Napoli and Bayer Leverkusen before Twente, and things were going well until Porto’s Hulk and Falcao took care of us in the semis....
2015-16 we defeated Sparta Prague, 6-3 on aggregate.
And then came Liverpool....despite losing, being at Anfield for that match is something I will never forget!
Now one thing that is different about this year’s draw is that we will know our semifinal opponents if we make it through the next round. Which makes sense, but I will miss the almost empty room for the semifinal draw.
And the draw is (home leg April 11 is at the first-named team’s ground, return leg is the 18th)
Napoli v Arsenal
VILLARREAL v Valencia
Benfica v Eintracht Frankfurt
Slavia Prague v Chelsea
the winners of the first two matches meet in one semifinal, the bottom two, the other one.