Time to dream. Villarreal overcame GNK Dinamo Zagreb in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals thanks to a Gerard Moreno goal from the penalty spot (0-1) and a fantastic performance from the whole team at the Stadion Maksimir, a stadium where the Croatian side had not lost a single game in Europe this season.
The Yellows now have six wins in a row in all competitions. The Yellows are also the only unbeaten team left in this season’s UEFA Europa League.
Unai Emery looked for solidity on the right, putting Juan Foyth at full-back. Ahead of him; Samu Chukwueze had more freedom ahead of him to generate danger in attack. Those two, and goalkeeper Gero Rulli were the new names in the starting XI. The rest of the team was the same as the side that overcame Granada at Los Cármenes in LaLiga.
The tensión could be cut with a knife. There was a lot up for grabs. Despite both team’s defensive caution, there were clear goalscoring opportunities in the first half, and a goal from Gerard from the penalty spot.
First of all, Alfonso Pedraza’s powerful right-footed effort was kept out by Livakovic’s gloves. Then, the Croatians responded through a Majer effort blocked by Rulli. Gerard sent the ball high over the bar, and finally Pedraza tried his luck again, but was denied by the keeper once more. That was the prelude to the 0-1.
In the closing minutes of the first half, the deadlock was broken. Gerard crossed from the left, with the ball hitting Théophile-Catherine on the head. A clear penalty. The Yellows No.7 stepped up spot and made no mistake from the penalty spot, sending Livakovic the wrong way.
Villarreal took to the pitch in the second half trying to take possession of the ball. Paco Alcácer replaced Carlos Bacca. The Valencian striker had a great chance in the 65th minute. He got on the end of a through ball by Gerard, and his right-footed effort went just wide.
The Submarine took the sting out of the game in the closing moment of the game, knowing the important advantage they already had.
The return leg of the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals will be on Thursday 15th April at the Estadio de la Cerámica (9pm CEST). Before that, Villarreal’s next game will be this Sunday against CA Osasuna at the same stadium (2pm CEST).
GNK Dinamo Zagreb: Livakovic; Ristovski, Lauritsen, Théophile-Catherine, Gvardiol (Leovac, m. 71); Ademi, Jakic (Kastrati, m. 60); Ivanusec, Majer (Franjic, m. 81), Orsic (Tolic, m. 81); Atiemwen (Petkovic, m. 60).
Villarreal CF: Rulli; Foyth, Albiol, Pau, Pedraza; Chukwueze (Moi Gómez, m. 68), Parejo, Capoue, Trigueros (Rubén Peña, m. 86); Gerard, Bacca (Paco Alcácer, m. 46).
Goal: 0-1. Min. 43: Gerard (penalty).
Referee: Daniel Siebert (Germany). Booked: Gerard (Villarreal).
Matchday information: Game corresponding to the first leg of the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals at the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb.