UEFA Cup 2007/08

Villarreal CF returned to the UEFA Cup in the 2007/08 season. This time around the Yellows reached the Round of 32, where they were eliminated by Zenit Saint Petersburg, who would go on to be crowned champions of the competition.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side, who entered the competition directly this time, after finishing fifth in the Spanish First Division (LaLiga Española), got through the Qualifying play-offs of the UEFA Cup without any problems, winning twice against FC Bate Borisov (4-1 at home and 0-2 away) and clearly showing their superiority.

Leader and undefeated in Group C

The Yellows shared Group C with ACF Fiorentina, AEK Athens, IF Elfsborg and FK Mladá Boleslav. Villarreal CF played their first match against Fiorentina at El Madrigal, in what proved to be the most difficult encounter of this phase of the competition. The Yellows only just got the draw with a goal by Capdevila from a set-piece in the 86th minute. However, the following three matches were much better for Pellegrini’s side, who stepped up their performance notably and won three out of three of their remaining matches.

The first victim was FK Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic (1-2), where Villarreal CF imposed themselves as favourites and were superior for most of the match. Nihat scored first for the Yellows and Santi Cazorla added to his account, both fantastic finishes. It was enough for Villarreal CF, who could have scored more goals but actually finished the match on the back foot as the Czech side upped their intensity to make a comeback.

El Madrigal then witnessed the second team to fall in the Group stages: with a 2-0 win against IF Elfsborg. Villarreal won the match without using all their resources and without putting their foot down completely. The Danish player Jon Dahl Tomasson scored both goals and could have had a hat trick from the penalty spot but the goalkeeper, Wiland, kept it out.

In the battle to lead the group, in what could be seen as one of the most difficult matches of the phase, Pellegrini’s side showed their though mentality and professionalism to beat AEK at no other than the Olympic Stadium (1-2). Therefore, the Submarine finished the round on top of Group C. After a brilliant one-two play, it was Mavuba who scored to give Villarreal CF the advantage. Then, despite a fantastic free-kick by Rivaldo which evened up the match, Tomasson scored again to give victory to the Yellows after dribbling around goalkeeper Macho.

Yellows’ dream ended by champions Zenit

Being the favourites acted against Villarreal CF, who were considered possible candidates for the title and had to face a third place team from another group in the final phase. The draw put Zenit in their way. And in an unfortunate but even tie the Russians put an end to the Yellows’ dream.

In the first leg, disputed in Saint Petersburg’s low temperatures and bad conditions, Zenit scored the only goal of the match due to a misjudged bounce of the ball by Diego López, which Pogrebnyak took advantage of.

The comeback was not unattainable in the second leg. However, at El Madrigal, once again after an unfortunate play, Pogrebnyak made Diego López look even worse and scored for the side that would go on to be the UEFA Cup champions. This goal meant Pellegrini’s team had to score three goals. Villarreal CF were playing well and better than the courageous Zenit -who had achieved their advantage almost accidentally- and came close to eliminating them. Guille Franco and Tomasson turned the score line around, but it was not enough for the Yellows to go on in the competition.