By Graham Hunter in Villarreal
Villarreal CF coach Francisco García struggled to find the words to express his joy after the Spanish side progressed to the UEFA Cup semi-finals.
"This is a dream," he said after seeing his team defeat Celtic FC 2-0 at El Madrigal and 3-1 on aggregate. "In fact it is a beautiful dream and now I hope I never wake up. The only sadness I have is that such a magnificent support as Celtic have will not be in this season's final. If I could change anything about this then perhaps I would dream that Villarreal against Celtic could, instead, have been the final of this competition."
Despite the fact that clever goals from Sonny Anderson and Roger García earned Villarreal a place in the last four of the UEFA Cup in their inaugural European campaign the dignified Spaniard, who will hand over the reins of the club in the summer, took time to praise his opponents.
"One thing I can say for sure, no matter how proud I am of my team and this club's fans, is that I will never, ever forget Celtic," García said. "This has been a tremendous experience for us and my respect for our opponents is immense.
Either of these sides might have made it to the final."
Villarreal in control
Villarreal always had the edge here, controlling the majority of the possession and defending with relative comfort against their tired-looked visitors. Martin O'Neill's side did make and miss chances, but the Celtic manager believed the manner of the goals conceded was more disappointing.
"The second goal was particularly avoidable," he said. "The first goal set us back on our heels, as early goals will do, and I had felt it was important to avoid that scenario.
We were always liable to be chasing the game at some stage given the first-leg score but I thought that when they scored for 2-0 we had been chasing it well."
Despite the absence of Chris Sutton and Alan Thompson through injury and suspension, Celtic might have equalised on a number of occasions. Stephen Pearson put a free header over the bar, while Jackie McNamara's thrilling run was ended by a Rodolfo Arruabarrena tackle inside the penalty area.
"I thought that both my defenders believed that the ball was going to carry to the goalkeeper for Villarreal's first goal," added O'Neill in explanation for the ease with which Anderson drifted in to head over David Marshall in the sixth minute.
'Praise and pride'
"I have nothing but praise and pride for the effort which my team have put in to these games," the Celtic manager said. "I will say that Villarreal are a very decent side and despite our disappointment we wish them well for the rest of the competition."
O'Neill admitted that the result was an anti-climax after his side reached the final of last season's competition, with talismanic Swedish striker Henrik Larsson set to leave the club in the summer. "There won't be another Seville for us in Gothenberg and I'm sad that this is the last European game Henrik Larsson will play for Celtic," O'Neill said. "But I think my players can be reasonably proud of their work in Europe over the last two seasons."
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