Three out of three (3-2)
Three out of three (3-2)

Villarreal continue their winning streak and secure qualification for the Europa League knockout stage

Villarreal continue their winning streak and secure qualification for the Europa League play-offs.
Villarreal are now winning in the cup, LALIGA and the Europa League. The Yellows overcame Panathinaikos (3-2) in a high-voltage match. Marcelino’s team started with a strong start, but suffered as the game wore on. They were 3-0 up at one point, but a late surge from the Greeks threatened at times to put the win in jeopardy, which would see them qualify for the knockout rounds of the UEFA Europa League.

After tasting victory in the Copa del Rey and LALIGA, it was the turn of the Europa League. Villarreal welcomed Panathinaikos knowing that, after Maccabi Haifa’s defeat, a win would mathematically qualify them for the knockout rounds. Although, of course, they have yet to decide whether they will finish first or second in the next few games.

However, Marcelino’s team came into the game strongly. Before the fifth minute, Villarreal had already created two great chances to open the scoring. A header from Comesaña, which narrowly missed the target, and Álex Baena’s forced mistake on Brignoli, who came close to losing the ball in his own area.

The Greek side took a small step forward as the minutes ticked by and had a couple of close calls in the box. The clearest chance fell to Rubén Perez with a fierce drive from the edge of the area that Pepe Reina saved well.

Before the half-hour mark, Ilias and Baena came up with a fantastic combination. The Spanish-Moroccan received the ball from the right flank, started from a static position and drove at great speed until he reached the edge of the area. With great vision he passed to Álex Baena. The player from Almeria classily beat the rival goalkeeper. 1-0 on the scoreboard.

The goal gave Marcelino’s team confidence. The Yellows team, in a clear upward trend since the arrival of the coach, had the game where they wanted it to be and it didn’t take more than five minutes to make it 2-0. This time, the goal was a wonder from Santi Comesaña. The Galician received a pass from Morales on the edge of the area, feinted the shot, changed his leg and hit an unmissable right-footed shot. Straight into the top corner to put the win and European qualification on track.
As the second half got underway, Villarreal scored again. Morales scored the third goal when he took advantage of an assist from Álex Baena, who stole the ball from an opposing defender and laid it off for the striker from Madrid to score his sixth goal in three games. That is the three games Marcelino has been in charge of the Submarine.

Panathinaikos pulled one back from 12 yards. Baena arrived late and committed a penalty. Ioannidis missed the spot-kick and hit the woodwork. Unluckily, the rebound fell to Palacios and with Reina beaten, he scored to make it 3-1.

The goal spurred on the Greeks, who just before had found the task of finding an equaliser frankly complicated. Now 3-1 and with nothing to lose, they gained ground in their opponents’ half and had several chances to score a second. With 10 minutes to go, Ioannidis did just that, taking advantage of a ball behind the Grogueta defence.

The game, which seemed to be over at the start of the second half, was reignited by the goals from the Greek side, who, near the end of the second half, found themselves in with a chance of a point at the Estadio de la Cerámica. And they held on until the final whistle.

In stoppage time, Alberto Moreno had the chance to score the winning goal after a shot from Gerard. The defender from Seville collected the rebound and came up against Brignoli. The ball didn’t go in and they had to suffer until the last minute, but, once again, a well-deserved victory was achieved. Marcelino’s third at the helm. Three out of three.

Lineups:

Villarreal CF: Reina; Foyth (A. Alti, m. 78), R. Albiol (Gabbia, m. 46), J. Cuenca, Alberto M.; I. Akhomach, Parejo, Santi C. V., M. Trigueros (A. Pedraza, m. 78); Álex B. (Gerard, m. 68), A. J. Morales (Brereton Díaz, m. 68).

Panathinaikos FC: Brignoli; Vagiannidis, Schenkeveld, Willian Arao, Mladenovic (Juankar, m. 87); Pérez, Bernard (Duricic, m. 60), Cerin (Vilhena, m. 75); Cantalapiedra, Sporar (Ioannidis, m. 60), Palacios (Mancini, m. 87).

Goals: 1-0. Min. 29: Álex B. 2-0. Min. 34: Santi C. V. 3-0. Min. 47: A. J. Morales. 3-1. Min. 67: Palacios (p). 3-2. Min. 81. Ioannidis.

Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia). Booked: I. Akhomach y Santi C. V. (Villarreal)

Matchday information: Game between Villarreal CF and Panathinaikos, corresponding to Matchday 65 of the UEFA Europa League group stage, at the Estadio de la Cerámica. Attendance: 16,993.

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