By Michael Harrold
Ivan Tomic's second-half penalty earned FK Partizan a point at home to Villarreal CF that ensured both sides progressed to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.
Tomic cancelled out Santiago Cazorla's early opener for the Spanish side, and with S.S. Lazio drawing 2-2 with Egaleo FC, the draw proved enough for Partizan and Villarreal to join Group E leaders Middlesbrough FC in the knockout stages.
Partizan coach Vladimir Vermezovic, still without injured defender Milivoje Cirkovic, opted to field the same team that drew 2-2 with Lazio last week. Injuries and suspensions have hit Villarreal hard and coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini's problems were compounded this week when Argentinian playmaker Juan Román Riquelme strained a hamstring. With José Mari Romero out with an ankle problem, Xisco was paired up front with Antonio Guayre.
Partizan controlled the play early on and worked the first chance on ten minutes as Nenad Brnovic's deflected effort broke to Pierre Boya but his shot was palmed away by José Manuel Reina. Villarreal were content to sit back, but when the chance came to break they did so incisively. Xisco's pass on 17 minutes split the Partizan defence and put Cazorla through, and the midfield player rounded Ivica Kralj before rolling the ball into the empty net.
Villarreal's 2-0 win against Middlesbrough on Matchday 3 was a rare bright note in a run of three league defeats for the Spanish side, but after the goal they began to play with the fluency that has been their hallmark in this competition over the past two seasons. Villarreal were no strangers to Dragan Ciric, Saša Ilic and Tomic, all of whom have played in the Primera División, but the Partizan midfield trio could not stamp their mark on the game as last season's semi-finalists successfully frustrated the home side.
Nikola Grubješic replaced Ciric at the break but Partizan continued to struggle to make an impact and twice in quick succession Kralj was forced off his line to save his side. On 53 minutes the goalkeeper tipped away Guayre's stinging shot after the Villarreal forward had been sent clear, then narrowly beat Xisco to the ball after the Partizan defence had again been breached.
The First Federal League leaders came into the match unbeaten and they showed their resilience again by drawing level on 65 minutes. Peña flicked the ball away with his arm as Boya leapt to meet a cross from the right, and Tomic's low penalty somehow squirmed under Reina's body to bring Partizan level.
With Lazio and Egaleo drawing, a point was sufficient for both sides to qualify but Partizan almost snatched the lead when Nemanja Rnic crossed dangerously only for Peña to clear with a last-ditch challenge. The result left both sides happy, however, with Partizan ending their campaign at Middlesbrough and Villarreal next facing Egaleo, both on 15 December.
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