Victory for the leaders of Group A. Villarreal picked up a hugely important win against FC Astana (2-3) and won themselves a ticket to the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, regardless of what happens in their last group game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Despite the close finish in Kazakhstan, Javi Calleja’s side dominated the match and defeated the Kazakh side who had gone unbeaten for 17 consecutive matches at the Astana Arena.
The Yellow Submarine came out all guns blazing and took control of the possession against FC Astana from the off. Despite not having many clear chances in the opening minutes, the Yellows knocked the ball around comfortably, waiting for an opening in the Kazakh side’s back line.
In the 16th minute, the Submarine had a great chance to open the scoring, but somehow the Astana defence kept out Sansone’s double effort. Then, five minutes later, it was Kabananga who broke the deadlock for the home team in spectacular fashion. The Kazakh side set off on a counterattack and Kabananga beat Barbosa with a superb strike from long range (1-0). Comeback time.
Astana’s goal only spurred Javi Calleja’s side on though and they set out to equalise creating two brilliant chances right away. The first fell to Fornals, who went through one on one against Eric after a great pass thread through to him by Raba. The goalkeeper was equal to Fornals' shot, but then it was Raba himself who made sure Eric had no chance the second time around. The Yellow number 28 equalised with a fine chest control and right-footed strike into the near corner.
At the start of the second half, Villarreal continued to dominate. Calleja’s side controlled the match, but could not find the winning formula to score their second.
On the hour mark, Javi Calleja decided to change things up. He put Bakambu on in place of Fornals. And the striker was the winning formula. The French-Congolese forward impacted the match immediately, scoring the decisive third goal of the game. The Yellows number 17 took advantage of a ball over the top by Sansone and smashed it past the Kazakh goalkeeper to put the Submarine ahead.
Bakambu’s goal motivated the Yellows and they played some absolutely fantastic football on the Astana Arena turf. Then, half way through the second half, the Yellows number 17 had chance to sentence the match. Nicola Sansone set Cédric up with another perfect assist, but this time his shot was straight at Eric.
Ten minutes from the end the French-Congolese put that right though as he scored his second from inside the box. Job done at the Astana Arena.
Three minutes from the end Twumasi pulled one back for the home side, making it a nerve-wracking final few minutes, but Villarreal held on to their lead to qualify for the Round of 32 of the UEFA Europa League.
FC Astana: Eric; Shomko, Anicic, Postnikov, Shitov; Logvinenko (Despotovic, m. 82), Muzhikov (Tomasov, m. 70), Maevski, Beysebekov (Grahovac, m. 67), Twumasi; and Kabananga.
Villarreal CF: Barbosa; Rukavina, Bonera, Víctor Ruiz, Marín; Rodrigo, Trigueros, Raba (Ramiro, m. 76), Fornals (Bakambu, m. 59); Sansone and Bacca (Soriano, m. 66).
Goals: 1-0. Min. 21: Kabananga. 1-1. Min 39: Raba. 1-2. Min 64: Bakambu. 1-3. Min. 71: Bakambu. 2-3. Min. 87: Twumasi.
Referee: Gediminas Mazeika (Lithuania). Cautioned: Shomko, Maevski Grahovac and Kabananga for Astana; Adrián Marín and Sansone for Villarreal.
Stadium: Astana Arena.