Villarreal have won the Europa League final after edging out Manchester United in an epic penalty shootout in Gdansk.
United fell behind in the first half after Gerard Moreno took advantage of yet more sloppy defending from set-pieces – something which has cost the Red Devils all too many times this season – to guide the ball past David De Gea.
That appeared to be the wake-up call United so desperately needed as they spent the remaining 15 minutes of the first half camped inside Villarreal’s half, managing to dominate possession without creating too many clear-cut changes to speak of.
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That was until the 55th minute, when Rashford’s scuffed volley on the edge of the area deflected into the path of the lethal Edinson Cavani, who doesn’t miss chances from that close out.
As the game ran on, neither team managed to gain the upper hand, leaving the game to go to extra-time, where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally made his first substitute after 100 minutes of his players huffing and puffing away in front of him.
But the flood of substitutes were unable to inject anything else into two dour periods of extra time with penalties beckoning.
All 10 of the original penalty takers found the net with some expertly taken efforts as the scoring spree continued until finally, on the 22nd penalty, after 21 consecutive goals, goalkeeper David De Gea missed to hand Villarreal the trophy.
It means it is now 35 consecutive penalties that De Gea has failed to keep out as a goalkeeper, despite facing 11 of the highest quality during the shootout in Poland.
Eric Bailly replaced the injured Harry Maguire in central defence, with the United captain surprisingly named among the substitutes despite suffering ankle ligament damage two weeks ago.
De Gea started ahead of Dean Henderson in goal, while Paul Pogba took up a more orthodox midfield role as Fred was only deemed fit enough for a spot on the bench.
An early collision between Juan Foyth and Pogba left the former Tottenham defender bloodied but both sides were slow to click into gear on a damp and chilly night on the Baltic coast.
Carlos Bacca’s clever rabona cross created an opportunity for Pau Torres, the centre-back linked with a summer move to United, while Marcus Rashford tested Geronimo Rulli with a dipping effort from distance.
Yeremy Pino, who at 18 years and 218 days broke Iker Casillas’ record as the youngest Spanish player to start a major European final, scuffed wide on the counter, but Villarreal were soon ahead.
Dani Parejo swung in a free-kick from the left and Moreno peeled away from Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof, steering beyond De Gea as the Swede desperately tugged at his shirt.
Moreno’s 82nd goal for Villarreal equalled the club record of former Manchester United forward Giuseppe Rossi.
But it also sparked a reaction from United, as a battling Scott McTominay watched his shot deflected over before Mason Greenwood burst into the area and sent in a fizzing cross that Raul Albiol nearly diverted into his own net.
Another Parejo set-piece caused panic in the United box right after half-time, Manu Trigueros crossing back towards goal before the ball was scrambled clear with Moreno and Carlos Bacca lurking dangerously.
Alfonso Pedraza was perhaps fortunate no further action was taken when he appeared to catch Greenwood in the Villarreal area, although United benefitted from a slice of luck to level.
A headed clearance at a corner dropped to Rashford, whose dragged volley ricocheted into the path of Cavani to stab home with Rulli unable to recover after anticipating the initial shot.
It was the Uruguayan’s sixth goal of the competition this season, all coming in his past four matches, and one that handed United the momentum.
Bruno Fernandes drilled wide as Cavani tried in vain to readjust with the ball flashing by, and the striker then headed straight at Torres from Shaw’s miscued shot.
United continued to dominate possession as Villarreal soaked up the pressure, but the Spaniards remained a threat as Torres curled over at the end of normal time.
Alberto Moreno slashed wide as United began to tire, prompting Solskjaer to make his first change after 100 minutes as Fred replaced Greenwood.
Weariness and a raft of substitutions slowed the tempo in the closing stages as the rain intensified with penalties almost inevitable.
The first 21 penalties were successfully converted before De Gea had his attempt palmed away by Rulli as United lost for the sixth time in seven shootouts, handing Emery a record fourth Europa League crown.
– With AFP