Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli scored the decisive spotkick and saved counterpart David de Gea’s attempt as they claimed their first European title by beating Manchester United 11-10 on penalties in the Europa League final on Wednesday.
In the first European final to be played in front of a crowd in two years amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Villarreal survived a tough second half to secure a 1-1 draw after extra time before going on to edge a tense shootout.
The win gave Villarreal coach Unai Emery a record fourth title in the competition, leaving United without a trophy since their Europa League triumph in 2017.
Gerard Moreno stretched to reach Dani Parejo’s free kick and steered the ball past De Gea to open the scoring in the 29th minute, only for United to level when Edinson Cavani poked the ball home after collecting Marcus Rashford’s deflected shot on 55 minutes.
After no goals were scored in extra time, all outfield players scored their penalties and Rulli coolly beat De Gea before saving the United keeper’s spotkick.
Villarreal were playing their first ever major final and coach Emery recognised United were favourites due to their more storied history, but urged his side to “keep breaking down barriers” after four semi-final exits.
Emery is renowned for his diligent study of opponents and although United made the stronger start, his side managed to minimise their strengths, ensuring Bruno Fernandes was deprived of space to create danger and Cavani had little wiggle room.
Their only chances in the first half were wayward shots from Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw and while Villarreal did not exactly sparkle, they made their one chance count from a free kick given away by Cavani.
Raul Albiol blocked Eric Bailly and Moreno outmuscled Lindelof to slide in and meet Dani Parejo’s curling cross, powering his shot beyond De Gea.
It was Moreno’s 30th goal of the season and saw him become Villarreal’s joint-top scorer of all-time alongside Giuseppe Rossi.
United continued to take the initiative after the interval and levelled with a scrappy goal as Rashford volleyed against a crowd of bodies following a corner and the ball deflected into the path of Cavani, who stroked it into an unguarded net.
The Uruguayan had a couple more half chances to find the winner while Rashford missed a gilt-edged opportunity but was offside anyway.
Villarreal had barely a sniff down the other end until defender Pau Torres had a chance to find a late winner, but failed to keep his shot under the bar.
Villarreal were the better side in the first half of extra time after Emery made all five changes before fulltime, contrasting with United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who did not make his first change until the 100th minute.
The five substitutes he did make all scored their penalties in an enthralling shootout but De Gea could not keep his nerve and lost the battle with his opposite number Rulli.
The kick-off of the President’s Cup game between Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko at the Accra Sports Stadium was delayed due to the late arrival of the president, Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo.
The players had already been sent onto the field and had exchanged pleasantries amongst themselves and were ready for the referee to whistle for the commencement of the encounter before the convoy of the president arrived at the match centre.
The game, which was initially expected to get underway at exactly 18:00 GMT was made to wait for an additional 30 minutes as the match officials and players waited for the president to perform the usual ceremonial kick.
Despite calls to use their fringe players for the game, both Samuel Boadu and Prosper Ogum Narteh named strong starting line-ups for the game.
Hearts and Kotoko both made one change to the team that faced each other two weeks ago in the Ghana Premier League, with Isaac Mensah replacing Gladson Awako in the Hearts set-up while Justice Blay came in for Dickson Afoakwa in the Kotoko line-up.
The President’s Cup is an annual ceremonial game organized by the Ghana League Clubs Association (GHALCA) to be played in honour of the president of the country.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports wishes to inform the General Public particularly the football fans who wish to enjoy their favourite games at the various league centres including the game between the Ghana Black Stars and their Nigerian Counterparts at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium on the 25th March, 2022 to ensure strict adherence to ALL Covid-19 Safety Protocols put in place by the Government.
To this end, the Ministry of Youth and Sports has directed the managers of the stadia (National Sports Authority) and the Ghana Football Association (GFA) to admit ONLY fans who are fully vaccinated into the stadia at various centres on match days.
In this regard, the Covid-19 Task force and the Ghana Health Service will mount vaccination centres during the upcoming President’s Cup between the Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko on the 4th March, 2022.
Further, the Ghana Health Service will mount vaccination centres at Kumasi, Cape Coast, Takoradi and Tamale stadia, one week before the Ghana- Nigeria derby.
With these measures put in place, it is expected that the facilities managers can admit as many fans as the facilities can contain provided that such fears have been fully vaccinated with the requisite vaccination card.
Furthermore, the wearing of Face Masks, the use of Hand Sanitizers and Social Distancing will also be strictly enforced. We count on the cooperation of all Stakeholders, the family of the sport (football) and the General Public to ensure strict compliance.
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