Villarreal goalie Rulli scores and saves crucial penalties to decide Europa League final after incredible shoot-out drama

Tension mounted as every one of the opening 20 spot kicks was converted, leaving the goalkeepers as the men upon whom the trophy would be decided
Villarreal goalie Rulli scores and saves crucial penalties to decide Europa League final after incredible shoot-out drama

Villarreal celebrate winning the Europa League final at Gdansk Stadium, Poland. Picture: Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA

Villarreal 1 Manchester United 1 (Villarreal win 11-10 on penalties)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believed he had the omens on his side as he set off in search of his first trophy as Manchester United manager but in Gdansk the football fates deserted a man who has now reached five cup semi-finals and a final in the past two seasons and lost the lot.

After Edinson Cavani had continued his impressive debut United season by equalising Gerard Moreno’s deserved opening goal for Unai Emery’s side, the eagerly-awaited Final petered out in disappointing fashion despite the presence of 10,000 fans.

Instead, the drama was reserved for the dreaded penalty shoot-out after 120 largely forgettable minutes.

Tension mounted as every one of the opening 20 spot kicks was converted, leaving the goalkeepers as the men upon whom the trophy would be decided. After Geronimo Rulli easily beat David de Gea, the United keeper - whose selection ahead of Dean Henderson for this game had been a tough call for Solskjaer - saw his effort saved.

Earlier, Cavani had levelled 10 minutes into the second half after Luke Shaw’s corner was headed out to Marcus Rashford whose first-time shot from the edge of the area deflected wildly off a group of players.

The ball fell for the veteran who reacted instinctively, and like lightning, to pounce and force the ball in from eight yards. There was a nervous wait for VAR confirmation but Cavani’s goalscoring senses are so refined that it was never in much doubt that he would have ensured he remained onside.

The goal was the start of a strong second-half showing from the Reds which was sorely needed after a poor opening period.

Moreno struck after 29 minutes with a goal that exposed United’s perennial weakness at set-piece defending; a chronic problem for Solskjaer’s side all season, even when England centre-half Harry Maguire has been in his line-up.

Here, without United’s injured club captain, it was painfully predictable as Dani Parejo curled in a superb delivery that exposed the high defensive line.

When Victor Lindelof failed to track back properly with the prolific striker, Moreno shrugged him aside and slotted in his 30th goal of the season on the half-volley from six yards even as the Swede tugged at his shirt in an attempt to impede him.

The loss of Maguire, who failed to recover from an ankle ligament injury, was a pre-match setback for Solskjaer but hardly a shock with the England defender having looked unlikely to play for a week or more.

But the loss prompted an unusual response from Solskjaer who dispensed with his usual security blanket of Fred and Scott McTominay as a defensive midfield pair.

Instead, in a blatantly attacking gesture, Solskjaer dropped Paul Pogba into that holding role, allowing him to field both Mason Greenwood and Rashford as wingers in his midfield three.

It may not exactly have been a case of throwing caution to the wind but it was a clear signal from the United boss that if he was going to win his team’s sixth European trophy, he was going to do it in style.

It was significant that Solskjaer had made an issue about Alex Ferguson travelling to Poland as part of his squad, on hand to offer his years of trophy-winning know-how to the modern United line-up.

And, of course, within seconds of beating Roma in the semi-final, Solskjaer had pointed out that the Final date, May 26, was not only the anniversary of his winning goal in the 1999 Champions League Final but also the birthday of the legendary Matt Busby, the man who started the club’s love affair with European success.

If Solskjaer hoped that those omens were stacked in his favour then the United manager will have hoped he had done his chances of success no harm with his attacking selections, especially when McTominay produced the game’s first shot, a 20-yard blast that flew off target but signalled intent.

But it was short-lived. The tie quickly settled into spells of United dominating possession but with the Spanish side threatening on the break, particularly from Dani Parejo’s corners.

Spanish teenager Yeremi Pino had a shot deflected wide from one set-piece while Carlos Bacca produced an outrageous “Rabona” cross which was fractionally behind Pau Torres who could only head over.

There was also a growing feisty element to the contest, with tackles becoming increasingly messy and the Spanish team benefitting from the stop-start pattern of the game, leading to their dramatic opener just before the half-hour.

United tried to respond but did not look remotely like equalising until the last minute of the first half when Mason Greenwood finally found space to cross and Raul Albiol almost turned it into his own goal.

It was a dispiriting half of football for United but a situation with which Solskjaer is all too familiar, given his team’s remarkable habit of coming from behind to win games, especially on their travels, this season.

It left the United manager with a vital half-time team talk although it had little impact i the opening moments of the second half as Eric Bailly slipped at a free-kick and almost let Carlos Bacca scramble in a second.

But McTominay’s skill and persistence won the corner that led to the equaliser and United were firmly back in the chase for the trophy.

They dominated the minutes that followed with Rashford missing a glorious chance from a Bruno cross - although he may have been offside - and Shaw’s shot almost being turned in by the head of Cavani.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea 7; Wan-Bissaka 6 (Telles 120), Bailly 5 (Tuanzebe 115), Lindelof 5, Shaw 7; McTominay 9 (Mata 120), Pogba 6 (James 115); Greenwood 6 (Fred 100, 6), Fernandes 6, Rashford 5; Cavani 8.

Subs (not used): Maguire, Grant, Diallo, Henderson, Matic, Williams, van de Beek.

Villarreal (4-4-2): Rulli 7; Foyth 7 (Gaspar 88, 5), Albiol 6, Torres 7, Pedraza 6 (A Moreno 88); Pino 6 (Alcacer 77, 5), Capoue 7 (Raba 120), Parejo 6, Trigueros 6 (Gomez 77, 5); G Moreno 8, Bacca 7 (Coquelin 59, 6).

Subs (not used): Asenjo, Funes Mori, Estupinan, Pena, Costa, Nino.

Referee: Clement Turpin (France) 6.

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox