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By Simon Hart at Goodison Park
Villarreal CF took a huge step towards claiming their place in the UEFA Champions League group stage as first-half goals from Luciano Figueroa and Josico earned them a 2-1 win at Everton FC in the first leg of this third qualifying round tie.
Manuel Pellegrini's side, who finished third in the Primera División last season, were deserved winners against the Premiership's fourth-best team, Everton, who struggled to create chances on their first appearance in Europe's premier club competition since 1971.
This was the Merseysiders' first European tie of any kind in ten years and their lack of experience was telling. They started enthusiastically, testing the Spanish side's defence with a series of crosses but the closest they came was when James Beattie failed to connect cleanly with Alessandro Pistone's inviting ball in the seventh minute.
Villarreal, with Argentinian playmaker Juan Román Riquelme prominent, gradually began to impose themselves, displaying the class that carried them to the UEFA Cup semi-finals two seasons ago and the quarter-finals last year. On 27 minutes they took the lead. The goal came from Figueroa, a player who made one league appearance during a brief unhappy spell in England with Birmingham City FC two years ago.
Figueroa marked his return to these shores with a fine goal, getting in front of David Weir as he raced on to Marcos Senna's through-pass and from the right side of the box firing a low shot across Nigel Martyn and into the corner of the net.
Figueroa threatened a second goal shortly afterwards but opted to dive as he rounded Martyn and received a yellow card. Everton responded with Tim Cahill heading on to the roof of the net from Mikel Arteta's cross and it was from another ball into the box they drew level.
Three minutes before the break, Beattie jumped with Gonzalo Rodríguez to meet Everton new boy Phil Neville’s cross and when the ball dropped behind the pair off the defender's head, the Everton man reacted quickest to stab it past debutant Mariano Barbosa.
Villarreal were quick to reclaim the advantage, however, in the final minute of the half. Juan Pablo Sorín swung in a left-foot centre from the right and Josico stooped to send a superb header from distance flying past Martyn.
It was a blow from which Everton never recovered. The opening of the second half saw a flurry of corners but no scoring chances. Everton manager David Moyes sent on strikers Duncan Ferguson and Marcus Bent and the latter almost found an equaliser immediately but got the ball caught under his feet with just Barbosa to beat.
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