KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli was the hero as Villarreal won the first major trophy in their history by out-shooting Manchester United 11-10 on penalties after an underwhelming 1-1 extra-time draw in the Europa League Final in Gdansk.
Spanish football’s Yellow Submarine took a first-half lead against the run of play through Gerard Moreno then conceded a second-half equaliser to Edinson Cavani. The two teams created only a handful of chances between them with United particularly disappointing in their lack of invention.
The penalty shootout was a class above the rest of the match with all the remaining players rattling away their kicks until it came down to a direct duel between the goalkeepers. Rulli thumped his own kick past David de Gea then the Argentinian swapped places to save from his opposite number.
At one point United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have considered the season a relative success after lifting his team to second in the league. Instead the Super League fiasco plus this defeat will leave a bitter taste.
Quite the reverse for opposite number Unai Emery.
This was his fourth success in the competition after his previous three with Sevilla. Along the way he also gained the satisfaction of seeing off Arsenal, who had sacked him, in the semi-finals. The ultimate reward for coach and players was the first major trophy in Villarreal’s history.
By contrast with Emery this was only Solskjaer’s second final in his managerial career, having won the 2013 Norwegian Cup with Molde.
The omens had been all with United. One great former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, flew to Poland with the team and was involved in the trophy presentation 22 years to the day since the dramatic Champions League victory over Bayern Munich in which Solskjaer scored the crucial goal.
Also on this date, further back in 1909, Sir Matt Busby, who led the club to their first European Cup, was born.
However, and perhaps significantly in the end, United were without captain and defensive strongman Harry Maguire. Their captain had damaged knee ligaments against Aston Villa on May 9 and was fit enough only for a place on the substitutes’ bench. He was badly missed.
Midfielder Scott McTominay produced the first effort on goal with a 20metre drive which drifted safely wide of goal and United then forced the first corner after 10 minutes in which Villarreal had barely escaped their own half.
Simultaneously fullback Juan Foyth, on loan from Tottenham, twice needed treatment off the pitch after collecting a blow on the head and a bloodied cut after a tangle with Marcus Rashford.
Not until the 23rd minute did Villarreal create any serious danger with Pau Torres heading high over the bar from a rabona cross by Carlos Bacca.
United had commanded the opening 25 minutes but gradually Villarreal overcame their initial nerves and took the lead in the 29th minute. Gerard Moreno escaped Victor Lindelof to stretch out his right leg and convert Dani Parejo’s free kick for his 30th goal of the season.
United were fortunate not to concede a second goal at the start of the second half as Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Eric Bailly made comical attempts to clear before the ball was finally hacked clear.
Again, there was no real pattern to United’s play but eventually their continual possession was rewarded.
United had a 52nd-minute penalty claim rejected by referee Clement Turpin after a clash of legs between Mason Greenwood and Pedraza. But two minutes later they were level when Edinson Cavani pounced after Villarreal failed to clear a left-wing corner.
Villarreal began to push forward and became increasingly vulnerable to a counter-attack. The unmarked Rashford should have given United the lead from one such break in the 70th minute but, over-eager, popped his shot side – and so to extra-time.
For the first time Villarreal began to take control with United unable to hold the ball or create any meaningful patterns of play. United even enjoyed a penalty escape after the ball ricocheted against Fred’s left arm only for VAR to clear referee Clement Turpin to continue with an increasingly disjointed match.
Hence the inevitable shootout.
Villarreal: Rulli – Foyth (Mario Gaspar 88), Albiol, Torres, Pedraza (Alberto Moreno 88) – Yeremi Pino (Pablo Acacer 77), Capoue (Raba 120), Parejo, Trigueros (Moi Gomez 77) – Gerard Moreno, Bacca (Coquelin 60). Unused subs: Asenjo, Funes Mori, Estupinan, Pena, Jaume Costa, Nino.
Manchester United: De Gea – Wan-Bissaka (Alex Telles 120, Bailly (Tyuanzebe 115), Lindelof, Shaw – McTominay (Mata 120), Pogba (James 115) – Greenwood (Fred 100), Fernandes, Rashford – Cavani. Unused subs: Grant, Henderson, Maguire, Amad, Matic, Williams, Van de Beek.
Penalties (Villarreal first): Gerard Moreno 1-0, Mata 1-1; Raba 2-1, Alex Telles 2-2; Pablo Alcacer 3-2, Bruno Fernandes 3-3; Alberto Moreno 4-3, Rashford 4-4; Parejo 5-4, Cavani 5-5. Sudden death: Moi Gomez 6-5, Fred 6-6; Albiol 7-6, James 7-7; Coquelin 8-7, Shaw 8-8; Mario Gaspar 9-8, Tuanzebe 9-9; Pau Torres 10-9, Lindelof 10-10; Rulli 11-10, De Gea 11-10 (saved).
Referee: Turpin (France).