Vila-real (Spain), Dec 14 (IANS) Villarreal have booked a berth in the knockout phase of the Europa League, thanks to a 2-0 win over Spartak Moscow in head coach Luis Garcia Plaza’s debut.
Both teams came out aggressively at La Ceramica Stadium here on Thursday, fully aware that a win in their sixth and final round-robin match would ensure them a berth in this competition’s round of 32.
The nearly 13,000 fans did not have to wait long for their team to get on the board, with Nigerian midfielder Samuel Chukwueze gathering a deflected ball in the area and firing a left-footed shot around a defender and past Spartak goalie Aleksandr Maksimenko in the 11th minute of the contest.
A key juncture of the match then ensued in which Spartak pressed forward relentlessly in search of the equalizer and had three good chances to score over a span of just five minutes and then a golden opportunity 10 minutes before halftime.
On that latter strike, Villarreal net minder Andres Fernandez made a phenomenal save to deny a shot by Algerian midfielder Sofiane Hanni.
When it was the home side’s turn to get back on the offensive, they did not let Spartak off the hook.
Just two minutes into the second half, a give-and-go play between Karl Toko Ekambi and Pablo Fornals set up the Cameroonian striker for a close-range goal opportunity against Maksimenko.
With Spartak down 2-0 and needing three goals, the Russian squad had to throw caution to the winds.
Although the visitors could have scored on a header by Cape Verdean striker Ze Luis that hit the woodwork, Villarreal nearly made it 3-0 on two chances by Argentine midfielder Santiago Caseres, the first of which was kept out of the goal by Maksimenko and the second by the crossbar.
Villarreal and Rapid Wien both finished Group G with 10 points (and advanced to the knockout stage), although the La Liga side finished first based on head-to-head points.