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Rulling the roost

Villarreal goalkeeper helps club win its maiden Europa League title

Rulling the roost
Villarreal players are all smiles after their Europa League success in Gdansk on Wednesday

Villarreal defeated Manchester United 11-10 in a dramatic penalty shootout to clinch the Europa League title on Wednesday, with goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli turning out to be the hero for the Spanish outfit. 

United shotstopper David de Gea had a bad day at the office and was beaten by every Villarreal player who stepped up to the take the spot-kick. The deciding shootout – which took place following a 1-1 draw in extra time – went so long that there were no outfield players left to take the penalty-kicks. 

Rulli and de Gea were the 11th men up for their teams, with the former sending his strike into the top corner. But, the latter lacked power in his shot, which was saved by Rulli. It was an upset to savour as Villarreal — a team from a city of about 50,000 people — secured the first major trophy in the 98-year history of the club by beating a European giant. 

The victory also secured a Champions League spot for next season rather than a run in the third-tier Europa Conference League, which was allotted for Villarreal after its 7th-place finish in La Liga. For Villarreal manager Unai Emery, it was a record fourth Europa League title, and it offered a measure of redemption after he was fired by Arsenal last season. 

“We worked hard this season and I think that we deserved to win,” said Emery post the victory. “We are going to enjoy each moment, but we are going to prepare for the next season in the Champions League, where we will be up against big teams,” added Emery. 

Villarreal’s win also ensured that United went a fourth consecutive season without a trophy for the first time since the 1980s and left its manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still looking for his first title. United’s last silverware was the Europa League in 2017. 

At the start, United dominated possession, but it was Villarreal which made the breakthrough. Gerard Moreno pushed past Victor Lindelof at a free-kick in the 29th minute and strained to prod Dani Parejo’s cross past de Gea. 

In the 55th minute, United equalised with a set-piece when Edinson Cavani reacted quickest to knock the ball in after Marcus Rashford’s low shot was deflected following a corner. United could soon have had a second, if not for Rashford scuffing a shot wide when one-on-one with Rulli. Another missed chance followed when Pau Torres blocked a Cavani header. 

When the game extended to extra time, United’s hopes of notching up a come-from-behind win faded. Villarreal looked the fresher team as Solskjaer held back all but one of his substitutions until the second half of extra time. Solskjaer brought on two penalty specialists, Juan Mata and Alex Telles, for the shootout. They both scored, but that meant little against Villarreal’s perfect 11 penalties.

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